Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, keeps on his website a "Crystal Ball" of GOP vice presidential possibilities. Portman is at the top of that list, in part, Sabato writes, because he's from a swing state, he's a former budget director and because he reinforces Romney's economic message. Portman, he writes, "is the safest of the safe picks."
The disadvantages? He could be held responsible for Bush-era budget problems and the ticket, Sabato writes, would be a "white bread sandwich."
"There's no excitement there," Sabato said. "You don't have spicy mustard. It's mayonnaise."
That Portman is not considered the most exciting choice has been a subject frequently commented on by cable talkers. Last week, comedian Colbert aired a spot featuring a long line of commentators talking about how Portman was qualified, but not scintillating. Colbert joked that Portman was, however, more exciting than Romney, and joked that Romney would be better off picking a headless Joseph A. Bank mannequin or a rice cake. "Nothing fires up the base like boring," Colbert joked.
Steep competition for running mate spot
A Quinnipiac University poll on potential vice presidential candidates reiterated that Portman is not necessarily well-known: Of those polled, 8 percent thought Portman would be a "good choice," 9 percent thought he would be a "bad choice," and 79 percent had "no opinion." That said, being picked as a vice presidential nominee tends to raise profiles pretty quickly. In 2008, Palin was a virtual unknown when McCain announced her as his running mate during a rally at Wright State University's Nutter Center.
Still, Portman brushed off poll results. "We're not doing things to raise the profile," he said. "We're doing things to get stuff done. My focus is on economic issues and fiscal issues and working hard in the United States Senate to do the job I was elected to do."
Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser and former aide to House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said now that Romney's running mate search is under way, he expects the former governor to undergo the same detailed process he has used throughout his career to make his decision.
"It will be consistent with a lot of big decisions he has made over the course of his business career and when he headed the Olympics, when he was governor and during the last campaign," he said, adding that it will be "very thought-out and detailed."
Portman's competition for the spot is steep, according to Todd Harris, a Republican consultant who worked for McCain in 2000 and has advised Rubio.
"The truth is the Republican bench for either running mate or a future presidential run is very deep," Harris said, "and so in some ways the Romney campaign has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose."
Harris said he believes Romney will follow the axiom of picking a running mate who does no harm to the ticket. He'll also likely weigh whether the running mate will help him politically, whether he has some sort of rapport with Romney and whether he is capable of being president.
"You'll be paying the price for a long time if you fail on any of those three," he said.
In 2008, McCain stunned GOP insiders when he announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was a dark horse who had not been mentioned on any short lists.
But Harris said McCain choosing Palin was the exception to the rule.
"The majority of the time, nominees fail to surprise us all that much with their picks," he said.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic political consultant who has watched Romney's career develop, predicted Romney will be pragmatic in his choice.
When he ran for governor in 2002 against Jane Swift, he had to pick a lieutenant governor to run with him. He chose a woman to run with him: Kerry Healey.
"He plucked her from obscurity," she said.
Marsh said as Romney proceeds, "he's going to be driven by what's going to help him win. Period. End of sentence. Nothing more, nothing less."
She said Romney will likely look to appeal to demographics, rather than geography. He will want someone different from him -- not necessarily a wealthy white man. She said Susana Martinez -- the first-term New Mexico governor who is a Latina -- may be a more likely choice.
"If there's a mirror image of Mitt Romney, absent the stint at Bain Capital, it's Rob Portman," she said.
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