One Heartbeat AwayTop GOP Contenders for Mitt Romney’s Running Mate07.26.12One Heartbeat AwayTop GOP Contenders for Mitt Romney’s Running MateGovernors, senators, and members of Congress—oh, and one woman. The most buzzed-about running mates appear to be safe VP choices for Team Romney. The Daily Beast’s shortlist.07.26.12 8:28 PM ETGetty Images (4); AP Photo (bottom right)Top GOP Contenders for Mitt Romney’s Running MateGovernors, senators, and members of Congress—oh, and one woman. The most buzzed-about running mates appear to be safe VP choices for Team Romney. The Daily Beast’s shortlist. When it comes to running mates, there’s a shortlist and then there’s a shorter list. Mitt Romney’s campaign staff has kept a lid on the names of the people who the candidate thinks could help him win the presidency, but we’ve been able to piece together some leading choices based on their credentials, their value to the ticket, and, in some cases, their own admission that they’re being vetted. The Daily Beast takes a look at the top contenders. Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call / Getty ImagesRob PortmanLong considered the favorite, the Ohio senator has a Washington résumé and is respected among top establishment conservatives. Having served in Congress since 1993 and as a cabinet official under George W. Bush, Portman is thought to be seasoned and tested. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he comes from a must-win swing state. Spencer Platt / Getty ImagesTim PawlentyRunning-mate picks used to be strategy. They used to be considered a chance to balance the ticket. But a Romney adviser admitted in June that in the post–Sarah Palin era, too much balance was simply out of the question. Pawlenty, a respected governor and conservative, has long been teased as being boring—even “vanilla,” as critics called him during the 2012 GOP primaries. But in a media culture that awaits gaffes and unscripted moments, consistent vanilla isn’t so bad. Chip Somodevilla / Getty ImagesPaul RyanWhen it comes to Republican credentials, no one has burnished his or her reputation more in the past four years than Ryan, the pivotal House Budget Chairman and author of two different budgets that have become the de facto GOP platform. Romney, whose record paints him more as a moderate than the “severe conservative” mantle he has claimed, could be helped by a bona fide champion of the right. The question is, would swing voters be convinced? J. Scott Applewhite / AP PhotoMarco RubioOn paper, the senator from Florida represents a perfect storm. He’s from a key swing state, comes from a vital ethnic group, and has been media-tested. What’s more, he sings a tune of conservatism that has turned him into a national spokesman for the party. The one downside: his relative youth (he’s 41) and short tenure in public life undercuts the primary argument Republicans made against Obama in 2008, that the would-be president was simply too green. Saul Loeb, AFP / Getty ImagesBobby JindalCall him the sleeper candidate. Like Rubio, he represents a unique and potentially valuable ethnic demographic and is from Louisiana, a state John McCain carried in 2008 that Republicans certainly want to hold. But his selection appears unlikely. For one, he has done little national press over the past three years, keeping a low profile after a panned appearance in 2009. And his public relationship with Romney appears peripheral at best. Bill Clark, CQ Roll Call / Getty ImagesKelly AyotteThe only woman seriously considered by the national press corps, Ayotte, the junior senator from New Hampshire, has been tested as a reliable conservative who can withstand national attention. Romney also trusted her to stand in for him at a pro-life conference on Friday morning. On the one hand, Ayotte, who just took office last year, is new to the national scene. But on the other, a new face in a party that desperately wants to expand could make her a strategic choice. Chip Somodevilla / Getty ImagesJohn ThuneSouth Dakota’s junior senator decided last year that he didn’t want to run for president. But when asked this spring, the handsome and respected member of the Republican leadership team said he was prepared to be vetted. Several Romney surrogates, including former senator John Sununu, have also said that Thune was “on the list” of Romney’s top picks. Justin Sullivan / Getty ImagesChris ChristieWhite House officials once feared the popular and frank governor of New Jersey would run for president himself. His blunt, no-nonsense style could be a potent weapon against Obama’s often lofty rhetoric. But when he declined, he said his family was unprepared for the lifestyle. Still, in Newsweek Christie flirted with the idea of bolstering Romney’s ticket. But there is one problem: such a bold personality would risk upstaging the nominee himself, a possibility Romney undoubtedly wants to avoid.