When President Barack Obama visited Carnegie Mellon University last month, Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal double-teamed him with sharp criticism and a pitch for Mitt Romney delivered on the other end of Oakland.
The former Minnesota and current Louisiana governors joined in an appearance at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. On the most obvious level, it was a campaign stop, but it was also viewed as part of an extended audition for two potential running mates for the soon-to-be GOP nominee. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman played the same role Monday as he stumped for Mr. Romney in Lancaster.
Last week, Mr. Jindal and another Republican governor, Virginia's Bob McDonnell, stirred similar speculation as they courted votes for Mr. Romney in Iowa. On Saturday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was working another battleground state as he talked up Mr. Romney in Nevada.
Along with Chris Christie's gubernatorial victory in New Jersey, Mr. McDonnell's 2009 victory in Virginia heralded the swing of the political pendulum away from the Democrats after Mr. Obama's 2008 landslide.
Beth Myers, the aide who has overseen the sifting, sent two Twitter messages Friday mentioning those names and another handful as ones to follow. The names listed without further comment appeared to confirm the conventional wisdom about the VP search. How much insight they gave on the actual Romney camp deliberations won't be known until the choice becomes public.
Want to know who it will be? There's an app for that.
The campaign urged its supporters Tuesday to download a smartphone application that was billed as the vehicle they would use to announce the pick. It was a variant on the Obama campaign's 2008 tactic of revealing the choice of Vice President Joe Biden through a nationally blasted email. The goal was the same: to leverage the announcement to collect digital data on voters the campaign hopes will be there for them in November.
The other names on Ms. Myers' Twitter tease were Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Mr. Christie; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The rumored candidates would bring varied ability in fulfilling Mr. Romney's perceived needs for a running mate.
A Gingrich selection, for example, would be seen as a campaign death wish. While his debate performances propelled him to a surprisingly strong run through the early GOP nominating events, he is also hugely unpopular among general election voters, according to the consensus of polling through the winter and spring. He campaigned for Mr. Romney in recent weeks, but he was among the former governor's most vituperative critics during the primaries, leading the assault on Mr. Romney's role at Bain Capital that is now being echoed by the Obama campaign.
Candidates such as Mr. Jindal, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Portman are at the other end of the plausibility scale. Mr. Pawlenty has a blue-collar image that could complement the patrician Mr. Romney. He was a popular governor of a normally Democratic state and would be welcome to the social conservatives who have sometimes viewed Mr. Romney with skepticism. Like Mr. Gingrich, he is a former rival in the nomination battle. He coined the phrase "Obamneycare" to highlight the similarities between the federal health care law and the Massachusetts legislation signed by Mr. Romney. But he never attacked Mr. Romney with the gusto of Mr. Gingrich.
He left the presidential race early after a disappointing showing in the Iowa State Republican straw poll last summer. Mr. Pawlenty followed his straw poll disappointment with an early endorsement of Mr. Romney and has since been one of his most frequent surrogates on the campaign trail.
His presence on the ticket would probably bring more ideological than geographical bonuses, however, as polls suggest that Minnesota would be a heavy lift for the GOP campaign even with Mr. Pawlenty on the ticket.
The ability to help carry key swing states is, on the other hand, central to the potential appeal of Mr. Portman and Mr. Rubio as potential running mates.
Mr. Portman was a key Romney ally during an Ohio primary in which he eked out a narrow win over his last surviving challenger, Mr. Santorum. With the exception of Ms. Rice, he brings the most foreign policy experience of any of the rumored contenders based on his stint as U.S. trade representative during the George W. Bush administration, where he also served as director of the Office of Management and Budget. That experience is a plus and a minus in the current Republican Party. The two high-profile posts give him some policy heft, but the Bush administration retains a controversial reputation with many conservatives critical of its lack of success in shrinking the size of government.
At least one recent survey, from the independent but Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, found that his presence on the ticket would make little difference in the Obama-Romney battle over Ohio, a state historically essential for a Republican White House victory. His longtime colleague, House Speaker John Boehner, said recently that Mr. Portman would be his choice for the second spot.
Mr. Rubio is particularly popular with the Tea Party wing of the GOP. He comes from a state in which polls have shown a near deadlock between the two top-of-the-ticket candidates, and, perhaps most importantly, his Cuban ancestry would be a major selling point in a party struggling with Hispanic voters across the country, particularly after the hard line on immigration struck by Mr. Romney during the primaries.
A PPP survey last month showed Mr. Rubio's presence on the ticket with the potential to tip Florida's electoral votes to the Republicans. Whether or not he ends up on the ticket, his fall is almost certain to include multiple campaign stops in other states with large Hispanic populations, including Nevada, where he spent part of his youth before his family moved back to Florida, where he was born.
Bobby Jindal's Louisiana is considered safely within the GOP electoral column already, but his nomination would enhance the Republican ticket's big tent credentials. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University after graduating from Brown University and becoming a wunderkind in Republican party and policy circles. He is an acknowledged expert on health care issues and was running his state's Department of Health and Hospitals while still in his mid-20s and was later an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration.
After an unsuccessful bid in 2003, he was elected governor in 2007 and re-elected in a landslide last year. He won an outright majority in a nine-person field in the state's nonpartisan primary, thereby avoiding a runoff election. He was the first Indian-American governor in the United States.
Mr. Ryan is another Republican who came early to political prominence, winning his House seat at 28. Before that, he was a speech writer for Rep. Jack Kemp, who was former Sen. Bob Dole's vice presidential choice in 1996. Mr. Ryan is best known for his controversial budget blueprint, passed by the GOP House, which would sharply curb spending in general and Medicare spending in particular. While he once supported replacing the current structure of Medicare with a privately operated system, he worked across the aisle with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon last year in offering a proposal for a hybrid system that would give future seniors the option of enrolling in a regulated private plan, with government support for premiums, or in participating in more traditional Medicare program.
He is a hero to fiscal conservatives. Mr. Gingrich's mild criticism of his entitlement reform proposals last year enraged small-government activists and nearly sent his campaign to an early exit. Some analysts have questioned whether his outspoken advocacy of controversial fiscal views would make the GOP ticket vulnerable to Democratic attacks. But Mr. Romney, in campaign appearances and on his website, has already embraced the central provisions of Mr. Ryan's fiscal plans.
Ms. Rice, the first female African-American secretary of state, could help Mr. Romney with two constituencies that have been problematic for him -- blacks and women. On the heels of his less than triumphant tour abroad, she would also burnish the ticket's foreign policy credentials. But she would create major problems with social conservatives wary of Mr. Romney's past shifts on abortion. Now returned to her academic career at Stanford University, Ms. Rice has displayed no interest in a return to politics. Still, polling shows that she would bring strength to the ticket. In Pennsylvania, for example, according to one recent PPP survey, she boosted the total for the GOP ticket by 6 percentage points, bringing Mr. Romney to a tie with the president for the state's electoral votes.
And speaking of Pennsylvania, what about Keystone State Republicans?
After an acrimonious campaign, Mr. Santorum has shown no interest in the job and Romney aides have not done much to fuel speculation about him. The former senator is hugely popular with social conservatives, a fact that might help unify the Republican base, but he is also a polarizing figure whose presence would be expected to do little to woo the crucial bloc of undecided voters. An aggressive campaigner, he might bring enthusiasm to the ticket but has little apparent potential to broaden its base.
Sen. Pat Toomey is a conservative policy wonk who has already attracted attention as a key figure in congressional budget negotiations. His calm demeanor represents a contrast with Mr. Santorum's hard-charging political style. But forging a two-millionaire ticket might make it vulnerable to the frame the Democrats are already trying to impose on the race with their portrayal of Mr. Romney as a figure out of touch with the middle class.
Politics editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published August 1, 2012 4:00 AM