When it comes to Mitt Romney, political insiders tend to agree on two things: Every name floated as the Republican nominee-in-waiting's vice presidential pick brings some political baggage and, baggage notwithstanding, low-key Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is the likeliest choice.
Yet GOP strategists, campaign advisers and lobbyists differ over who might actually make Mr. Romney's best choice: the handsome young Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the cerebral Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the union-taming Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the low-key former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty or the fiscally bold House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
"It's Portman by a process of elimination. Mitt is comfortable with him, and the rest have more baggage," confided a veteran GOP presidential campaign manager with ties to Mr. Romney.
Mr. Portman, 57, has a mile-long resume that includes stints as a congressman, lawyer in the counsel's office in President George H.W. Bush's White House, and then trade ambassador and budget director for President George W. Bush before being elected to the Senate.
Those two posts under the younger Mr. Bush, however, would be targets for President Obama and fellow Democrats seeking to make the argument that Mr. Romney wants to return to what they call the last Republican administration's "failed" economic policies.
A pro-life member of the United Methodist Church, Mr. Portman voted to support traditional marriage, for a ban on child adoption by same-sex couples in D.C., and for a constitutional same-sex marriage ban.
Mr. Portman's low-key personality would not upstage Mr. Romney, and he perhaps best fills the nominee's top criterion of being prepared to assume the top job if necessary. But with Mr. Romney keeping his search under extremely tight wraps, other names are still very much in the mix:
• Sen. Marco Rubio: In contrast to the staid Mr. Portman, excitement is what the Florida freshman senator, 41, is all about. The son of Cuban immigrants who hails from one of Mr. Romney's top three must-win swing states, Mr. Rubio is the favorite of many conservatives in general and of many in the tea party movement. Though a Catholic opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, he distresses some on the right with his plan to offer a path to legal status for some young illegal immigrants. Florida Democrats once made much of his personal use years ago of a state GOP credit card, for which he later reimbursed the state party. He has also faced questions about his account of how and when his parents left Castro-dominated Cuba to set up a new life in the United States.
Besides adding zest to the GOP ticket, many see Mr. Rubio as the party's best hope to attract significant numbers of Hispanic votes.
• Tim Pawlenty: Mr. Pawlenty, 51, has much in common with Mr. Romney as a fellow former governor of a liberal-leaning state. He brings a folksy campaign style without adding Rubio-style pizzazz to the ticket -- which suits some Romney advisers who value quiet reliability in a running mate.
But he has diverged in the past from conservative orthodoxy in his stated belief in global warming and in backing "green economy" measures that will also create jobs. He supported reducing greenhouse gases and establishing a regional "cap-and-trade" pollution-reduction program, but later changed his tune on both.
He rubs free-marketers the wrong way as a supporter of ethanol subsidies and for his record on taxes, and he first favored then later opposed President Bush's 2008 Wall Street bailout plan.
A Catholic-turned-evangelical-Protestant, he says he still sometimes attends Catholic services.
• Rep. Paul Ryan: Mr. Ryan, 42, a competent speech maker, has carved out a national reputation as his party's voice on spending and the deficit as the House Budget Committee chairman, and won the glowing endorsement of the influential Wall Street Journal editorial page Thursday. He has pushed for significant budget cuts and crafted a long-term debt-reduction budget plan, taking fire from the left for the proposed cuts to entitlement programs, while some on the right said his debt reduction was insufficient.
A pro-life Catholic opponent of same-sex marriage, he has created some confusion over who his intellectual pinup is, praising as his inspiration the ardently pro-free-market writings of Ayn Rand, while rejecting the influential author's atheist views.
• Gov. Bobby Jindal: Mr. Jindal, 41, has a multifaceted appeal: His parents emigrated from India, which could draw the attention of Asian-American voters who have replaced Hispanics as the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. And Mr. Jindal can claim progress in reducing the growth in government spending during his five years as governor of Louisiana.
Though not a captivating speaker, he also enjoys strong support from tea partiers and GOP regulars.
He is considered an intellectual and philosophical conservative and cut his teeth running Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals at the age of 24. But some who have been in their presence say he and Mr. Romney have not clicked the way Mr. Romney and Mr. Portman have.
• Gov. Chris Christie: The voluble New Jersey governor, 49, was a constant campaigner for Mr. Romney in the primaries, and in the New Jersey capital of Trenton, he has used his line-item veto power to cut state spending despite Democratic control of the state Legislature. He also pushed through a measure this month making it easier to fire incompetent public-school teachers and harder for teachers to win tenure.
Earlier this year, he aligned with religious conservatives by vetoing the legalization of same-sex marriage.
But he offends many on the right by supporting a "path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants and some gun-control measures.
• Gov. Scott Walker: The first-term governor, 45, is a hero to fiscal conservatives for winning passage of a limit on public employees unions' collective-bargaining powers in Wisconsin. When Democrats and the unions tried to oust him in retaliation earlier this year, Mr. Walker won by an even bigger margin than his 2010 election, becoming the first governor of any party to survive a recall election.
From a Midwestern swing state, he is an evangelical Christian recently handed a speaking slot at the GOP nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., diminishing the likelihood of being tapped for the Romney ticket. He is said to be leery about leaving his post so soon after winning the hard-fought recall election.
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