The Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney’s chances of becoming the president of the United States took a considerable albeit predictable boost last Tuesday, when he amassed the majority of 1,144 Republican party delegates needed to unofficially confirm what many had seen coming for over a year now. With this in the bag, the issue now dominating the thoughts of numerous Republican party officials, conservative pundits, and political bloggers and journalists is the question over who Romney will pick to be his running mate in November, and, if successful, the next vice-president of the United States.

This mathematical assurance, which has only substantiated what has been obvious for months, means that aside from new campaign strategy – get the old etch-a-sketch out – and the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Florida, Romney’s focus will shift to his decision for the number two spot on the Republican ticket. This has subsequently commenced the so-called “veepstakes,” and the floodgates have opened for political pundits and commentators everywhere to provide their own predictions as to who they reckon will ultimately fill this ambiguous but often game-changing role. One manifestation of this has been demonstrated on the website, which has been offering the public odds on the prospects of leading Republicans filling the bottom half of Romney’s ticket. Suggestions range from the safe and obvious to the risky and obscure; will it be someone who helps win a specific voting demographic? Or someone who comes with a large swing state? Or even – heaven forbid that cheap politics should be swept aside – someone who has actual chemistry with Romney and provides an effectual working partnership with him?

Tuesday night also instigated the period of “vetting,” which naturally precedes the running mate selection. When choosing a vice-presidential candidate, a general objective, which has become a quasi-rule of thumb, is the idea of “balancing the ticket.” This means picking a candidate who ticks the boxes the presidential nominee does not, counterbalancing their weaknesses and liabilities. For example, when Barack Obama was making this decision, as a young, inexperienced African-American, it was in his interest to choose someone old, white and with a wealth of political experience: Joe Biden ticked all these boxes. In fear of slipping into a trashy and over-simplified analysis of this decision, however, it must be stressed that the most important factor that will ultimately influence Romney’s choice will be shaped by the understanding that if he were to die, resign or be impeached, his running mate would become president. The implications of this decision are real and stretch beyond the realm of clever campaign strategy and good politics, to the execution of a job that has come a long way since “the bucket of warm spit,” as John Nance Garner, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice-presidents, described it. As bruiser Dick Cheney evidenced, it has become a position of significant influence and originally unknown power.

As it stands, Romney currently lags behind Obama and, if carefully selected, this decision could give his campaign a much-needed jab in the arm. He could choose someone unexpected and edgy with a charisma beyond Romney’s lack thereof, though this might not be the best tactic: although it worked for George W. Bush with Dick Cheney in 2000, it fell flat on its face for John McCain with Sarah Palin in 2008. It’s Romney’s choice and it’s an important one.

Rob Portman

Rob Portman, an Ohio senator

For Romney, picking Rob Portman, a senator for Ohio, would be like looking in a mirror and declaring, “I want you to be my vice-president!” The obvious and overly safe option for Romney manifests in this uncharismatic fiscal conservative. He is almost too Romney-esque and if selected could be asking for a plaque on the historical wall of forgotten presidential tickets, just above Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, and just below Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.

Nevertheless, it is Portman’s likeness to Romney that makes the Senator exactly what Romney needs: someone secure, who has no chance of outshining Romney, unlike Christie or Rubio, and provides the ticket with a sense of shrewd reasoning. Moreover, Portman’s networks within Washington, DC would be enough to boost Romney without creating suspicion and countering his appealing “outsider approach.” Plus, Portman’s budget expertise enhances what is already a strong area for Romney. Combine this with the likelihood of carrying Ohio, a crucial swing state, and Portman’s CV shoots right up.

For the first week or so, Romney would probably receive criticism for choosing such a safe and steady running mate, but if Portman’s credentials are persistently demonstrated – and he begins showing some charisma – he could be the game-changing running mate Romney desperately needs.

Odds: 7/2

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio, a Florida senator

This senator from Florida is an obvious choice for Romney. He’s young, charismatic and comes with much support in a swing-state that would be crucial for a Romney victory in November. He would also help Romney with the Hispanic vote, as his Cuban heritage and moderate sympathy for the DREAM Act would appeal to this ethnic minority, which is slowly shifting its support behind the Republican party. Furthermore, and arguably most importantly, he would give Romney an unambiguously conservative running mate, which would help him enhance and consolidate Romney’s currently lukewarm support within his own party.

However, Rubio is far from Romney’s dream choice. His views on immigration, an important and personal policy area for the senator, clash with Romney’s more hard-line stance, which could pose a challenge for the two were they to take office together. Moreover, Rubio’s Cuban-American background would not necessarily provide the expected boost within the Latino communities; the majority of Latinos are of Mexican heritage, some of whom harbour bitter feelings towards the Cuban-Americans who were allowed to seek asylum freely in the United States when Mexicans received no such benefit. Finally, although a Catholic now, Rubio was raised a Mormon, which could further highlight Romney’s own Mormonism, exacerbating this as an issue for evangelicals even within his own party.

On the outside, Rubio looks like a strong choice and has already shown his credentials as an attack dog, something Romney could probably do with when going head-to-head with Obama over the next few months. If Romney did select Rubio, however, it would be predominantly cosmetic. On reflection, apart from delivering Florida, Rubio appears to be a less inspiring choice than some would originally perceive.

Odds: 6/1

Chris Christie

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie

Republicans practically begged the governor of New Jersey to run for president last year and now they are nagging him to take any opportunity of being Romney’s number two. The boisterous and belligerent governor is adored by fiscal conservatives and would reaffirm Romney’s base support within the party, as well as attracting a number of independents. Christie’s irrefutable charisma and admired “straight-talking” attitude could inject a large dose of enthusiasm into a campaign that is looking a bit limp.

Choosing a character like Christie comes with its own risks, however. The governor struggles to stick to script; his ad-libbing has caused much controversy in the past and his remarks are liable to alienate certain voting margins. And in a year which has already seen huge media hype over an “etch-a-sketch” remark, Romney’s campaign could get bogged down by media frenzies whenever Christie opens his mouth. Still, it is entirely possible that Christie might earn some media respect for his candid comments as he might be viewed as a more genuine individual. This highlights what would be another potential problem for Romney: Christie could be almost too charismatic, shifting the focus from Romney and leaving people wishing the ticket was flipped with Christie as the presidential nominee instead.

If Romney offered and Christie accepted, it would probably do wonders for Christie’s own political profile and would likely make him favourite for the Republican nomination in 2016 or 2020. For Romney, however, Christie is sub-optimal. His main asset is his personality and he provides neither a state – with New Jersey likely to elect Obama again – nor a voting demographic, giving Romney little help in the major swing states.

Odds: 15/1

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan, a congressman

This young, telegenic Chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the so-called “Ryan plan,” the Republican’s counter budget proposal, which includes massive federal spending cuts and lowering the highest individual tax rates, is going to be a household name by November. Whether he is sat in the House of Representatives or on a stool next to Romney at some rodeo in Iowa, Paul Ryan will be playing a major role in U.S. politics come autumn. On the face of it Ryan’s appeal is obvious: his age and enthusiasm would inject some youth and energy into Romney’s currently tame ticket. He would help Romney by balancing his age and experience, while also providing him with an attack dog ready to rip Obama to shreds wherever and whenever. He is popular and viewed as a successful fiscal conservative who seems to have already developed a personal rapport with Romney.

Further inspection of a Romney-Ryan ticket only suggests that Ryan should be higher in the running. Currently, Romney’s strongest attribute is his financial background and history, and he leads Obama on all the polls about the economy. This election is going to be the election on the economy, and if Romney wants to win it he will need to put all his political weight behind his financial message. What better way to do this than have one of his party’s most respected fiscal conservatives at the forefront of his campaign? Romney has already endorsed Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” (budget) plan, so why not bring Ryan to the heart of his campaign and throw everything he’s got behind an economic message that could be the silver bullet against Obama? Moreover, Ryan and his plan could also be used to drive a huge wedge between Romney and Obama, countering the hype over the similarities between Obamacare and the healthcare plan Romney employed in Massachusetts years earlier. Enhancing Romney’s already popular position on the economy with an injection of fiscal conservatism from Ryan could be what topples Obama in November, potentially making Ryan the best choice.

But if Romney is even slightly unsure about Ryan’s budget plan, or feels amendments could and should be made, then Ryan could be detrimental to the ticket. Romney won’t want to put what he believes is an unconvincing plan for the economy at the front of his campaign; Obama and his team are excellent at pointing out flaws, and allowing a vulnerable budget plan to characterise the Republican campaign would be giving Obama the election on a plate. Moreover, Ryan isn’t much more than a young Romney: a white, northern, predictable, fiscal conservative. At only 42 he lacks experience, especially in an executive position, plus, as highlighted during an event in Wisconsin he hosted with Romney, Ryan lacks charisma. He’s not good at ad-libbing and appears to struggle when pressured on the spot. This would only amplify Romney’s already pedestrian reputation. Another obstacle for choosing Ryan could be Romney’s own party. Ryan and his budget plan will be important for galvanizing Republicans on Capitol Hill for the next few years; they don’t want a leading Republican to leave the House when much of the budget battle will be fought in this chamber. In short, it might be better for the Republicans to leave Ryan where he is.

Although most pundits have basically ruled Ryan out and place Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty in higher stead than him, this commentator believes he is being too readily overlooked. Ryan doesn’t come with any automatic or obvious benefits, however he could just be the perfect vice-presidential candidate to take on Obama and Biden in November.

Odds: 30/1 (overlooked)

Bob McDonnell

The governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell

Choosing the governor of Virginia would have a completely different impact on the Republican ticket, as it would not extend the attraction beyond the Republican Party so much as consolidate support within it. A social conservative from a key swing state, McDonnell would provide two benefits as running mate: he would appeal to the Republican base, reassuring the party’s choice of nominee, and he would help Romney’s chances in Virginia. With these as his greatest assets, he appears a less energizing but certainly safer option than Christie or Rubio.

But McDonnell does have his own baggage. If Romney were to pick him as running mate he would sacrifice one of his greatest appeals as a Republican nominee – his more moderate views. McDonnell espouses some very controversial opinions, as highlighted in his graduate thesis from Regent University, where he slams homosexuals, divorce, working women and unwed mothers. In a race where Romney is already far behind Obama in the women’s vote, having a running mate who has previously spouted this sort of rhetoric would certainly not help.

Although McDonnell might satisfy the Republican base and get evangelicals in his own party a bit more motivated, it would be at the expense of the more crucial independent votes. McDonnell would be a more restrained choice for Romney, which in many respects could be what loses it for him in the end.

Odds: 40/1

Other candidates

As mentioned earlier both Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty have become more serious contenders, but neither is yet likely, with Daniels even going as far as claiming to avoid a telephone conversation with Romney. Bobby Jindal, the young governor of Louisiana, who is a Tea Party-favourite, has also been a name floating around. He poses a more wild-card option than the likes of Daniels, Pawlenty or John Thune, a senator. More inspiring but riskier ventures include the South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, and the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez. Some mention has also been saved for the likes of Rand Paul (the son of Ron Paul, a Texas congressman), Mike Huckabee, and the Sarah Palin-endorsed Congress freshman, Allen West.

Odds for all of the above (except for maybe Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty): 50/1 – 1000/1