It’s over. Mitt Romney is almost a mathematical certainty to be the Republican nominee. He hasn’t yet clinched the nomination, but it’s hard to see a scenario where the former Massachusetts governor isn’t at the top of the GOP ticket in November. The suspense now shifts to who Romney will select as a running mate. Will he try to shore up his standing with women or Hispanics? Perhaps try to win over voters in crucial swing states? Or maybe he’ll just double down on his strength and select another boring white guy with an air of competence?
No one knows exactly what Romney is thinking. But turning to his favored method—market-based solutions—here are his top five likely Republican vice presidential contenders, according to Intrade, the online futures market.
1. Marco Rubio
The freshman senator from Florida currently is the most likely vice presidential contender on Intrade, with a 24.9 percent chance of being Romney’s pick. Rubio is a young, charismatic Cuban-American from a crucial swing state where he is beloved by conservatives. Rubio does have some weaknesses. He has spent less than two years as a statewide elected official—exactly as much time as Sarah Palin had in 2008. Further, Rubio spent part of his youth as a Mormon, which gives pause to some evangelicals. And, unlike Romney, favors a version of the DREAM Act, which would allow certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children an opportunity to become citizens.
2. Chris Christie
Sometimes a vice presidential nominee is used as a way to reach out to swing voters. Sometimes, the number two spot on the ticket is used to reassure the base. Chris Christie is the rare candidate who can do both. The boisterous, belligerent governor of New Jersey, currently given a 10.9 percent chance of being Romney’s choice, is revered by base voters for his tough stance against unions, but is socially moderate enough to appeal to many centrists.
Christie, though, has said openly that he’s not ready to be president, which may make some hesitate to putting him a heartbeat from the Oval Office. He also is the antithesis of Romney as a candidate. He is prone to ad-libbing, and has difficulties sticking to a script. In a political cycle when an off-the-cuff remark from an aide about an Etch a Sketch can cause a week-long media frenzy, the risks of such “straight talk” are magnified.
3. Bob McDonnell
As a social conservative from a swing state, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell could serve two roles for Romney. He would appease right-wingers nationally who worry that Romney is “a Massachusetts moderate” while bolstering the campaign in the Old Dominion.
But while McDonnell may be given 9.9 percent odds on Intrade, he may be too much of a social conservative. During his gubernatorial run in 2009, McDonnell saw his graduate thesis from Regent University emerge—and receive some scrutiny. Although the document didn’t cost him the race in a strong Republican year, his controversial views on contraception and “fornicators” may be too toxic for some general-election voters.
4. Paul Ryan
Regardless of whether Paul Ryan is on the Republican ticket, he will be a key figure in the fall campaign. The Ryan Plan, named after the 42-year-old, seven-term congressman from southern Wisconsin, will be a focal point of the presidential election. This controversial program involves major cuts to virtually every single government program as a way to both pay down the deficit and significantly cut taxes.
Romney already has endorsed the Ryan Plan, as has the Republican Party en masse, but putting Ryan on the ticket would reinforce the salience of the issue. Although Ryan is personable and has a rapport with Romney, he would have to give up his seat in the House for a vice presidential bid, which could make it less tempting for him to sign up—and is one of the reason Intrade has him at just 8.9 percent.
5. Rob Portman
Rob Portman is a dull and uncharismatic fiscal conservative, just like Mitt Romney. But Portman comes from the crucial swing state of Ohio, and his political operation is credited by some for putting Romney over the top in that state’s hard-fought Super Tuesday primary against Rick Santorum. The result has generated some buzz for Portman as the safe and steady choice for the number two spot, and garnered him an 8.4 percent chance on Intrade of being picked.
The first-term Ohio senator also is a long-time Washington insider, having served 12 years in Congress before joining the Bush administration. Such inside-the-Beltway ties run counter to Romney’s message as a problem solver from outside of Washington.
Romney, though, need not pick any of these five contenders as his running mate. There are a range of other possibilities, such as Hispanic or swing-state governors Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, and Sarah Palin favorite—first-term Florida Congressman Allen West. Judging by past history, the GOP nominee could be someone totally out of the blue, just as Palin was four years ago and Dick Cheney and Jack Kemp were before that. One thing that does seem fair to say is that the odds are strongly against the former Alaska governor surprising anyone again with an appearance on the ticket. But if you disagree, Intrade will betcha.