In choosing a running mate the candidate should focus on who will be a good governing partner. There are two aspects to this question, personality (do the two people get along) and experience (does the running mate have areas of knowledge the candidate lacks). The political impact of the vice presidential selection is vastly over-rated.
Quayle is maligned (unfairly) as the classic lightweight VP, but in 1988 Bush Senior won the election with Quayle on the ticket. They lost in 1992, but that was primarily because the economy was weak and Republicans had held the White House for three terms, not because of Quayle’s presence on the ticket. McCain’s choice of Palin has been justly criticized, but the reality is that the economy collapsed in the middle of the campaign – it is difficult to see how McCain, associated as he was with the incumbent party, could possibly have won.
Politically, the key rule in running mate selection has always been, “First do no harm.” Critical is choosing someone who is realistically presidential in his or her own right. All of the top choices on Romney’s list are experienced capable politicians. The question of personal chemistry is unknown to outsiders. There are rumors that Romney and Pawlenty have a warm friendship, but these are rumors. All of the top choices are experienced politicians who have probably had to learn to get along with their colleagues.
That leaves the issue of experience. The Presidency is a job like no other. Romney is a capable individual with a variety of experience, but there is little doubt that he will find very steep learning curves with many aspects of the Presidency. At a recent forum at the Brookings Institute, Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, who was an assistant to Vice President Bush and then head of Presidential Personnel in the George H. W. Bush White House, observed that Capitol Hill experience should be a pre-requisite for the vice presidency. The last two vice presidents who came from governorships to the vice presidency were Agnew and Rockefeller – both had difficult experiences in their new role. Congress is a unique institution and a new president who does not know it well himself will need counsel and will probably benefit from his VP’s personal contacts.
In terms of Hill experience the leaders, by far, are Rep. Ryan and Sen. Portman. Both were elected to the House of Representatives seven times. But Portman was also elected to the Senate and has the additional virtues of substantial executive experience close to the White House as a staffer, OMB chief, and US Trade Representative. All of these positions are in areas where Romney may find that he needs an experienced hand to offer assistance and advice.
On the one aspect of the VP selection process that is clear to outsiders (resume) Portman has a strong lead. But there are many other factors – including the all-important issue of personal chemistry.It occurs to me, I did not address the question of Chris Christie. He is a talented politician and interesting character. But he has been governor of New Jersey for less then 3 years. Prior to that he was US attorney for New Jersey for six years. This is important experience, but not electoral experience. Most importantly, Christie's background suggests little that substantially augments areas where Romney is weak - experience with Washington and international affairs.
Another candidate worth a bit more examination is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He has a bit of Washington experience - 3 years in the House and 2 years as Asst. Secretary at HHS. He is an extraordinarily capable politician and young enough to have multiple shots at the presidency himself. But his Washington experience is slender and offers Romney little complementary experience.
Finally Rubio also has only two years of Washington experience, thus not bringing the right skill set to the table.