By JONATHAN KARL, ABC News Senior Political Correspondent
(WASHINGTON) — The Romney campaign won’t say anything about when a vice presidential announcement will be made, but here is a hint: I know of two potential candidates who have been told to stand ready for an announcement any day now that Romney has returned from his foreign trip. The messages were delivered before Romney returned; the candidates were told to be prepared to jump into action anytime after the end of the trip.
Only Romney ultimately knows when he will pull the trigger, but the widespread expectation of those close to him is that it will happen well before the Republican convention, although likely not before next week.
As for whom the pick will be, I believe the short list comes down to three names: Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan.
Ryan is the dark horse here, dismissed by many as relatively inexperienced and tainted by his controversial “Path to Prosperity” budget, but Romney confidants tell me Romney thinks highly of Ryan and sees his budget plan as a positive, despite the predictable attacks that would come from Democrats. After all, those attacks will come anyway (Democrats already speak of the “Romney-Ryan Budget”). Picking Ryan for VP would put on the ticket the person best able to respond to those attacks.
And get this: Some of Romney’s political advisers believe Ryan could put Wisconsin in play, giving a Romney-Ryan ticket a chance of winning a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in 1984. They point to a recent PPP poll that showed putting Ryan on the ticket cuts President Obama’s lead in Wisconsin to a single point.
Here is the poll.
There are other longer shots potentially still in play. Marco Rubio, of course, has strong advocates in the party and continues to draw the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of any of the others. There’s also Kelly Ayotte and Bobby Jindal.
One thing to consider is the Rafalca factor. Rafalca, of course, is Ann Romney’s horse that is in the Olympic dressage competition. Although Mitt Romney is back in the United States, Ann Romney is still in London to watch Rafalca compete.
If Rafalca does well this week (and our money is on the horse doing well), she will make it to the final round of the Dressage competition, which would delay Ann Romney’s return from London until Aug. 9. The question is, would Mitt Romney make such a big announcement without his wife?
So, now, here is the new short list of those most likely to be Mitt Romney’s running mate:
The Top Tier
1. Tim Pawlenty: Pawlenty is the new front-runner. He has won high marks from Republicans for his work on the Romney campaign: on the stump, in interviews and in fundraising. As the former governor of Minnesota, he has executive experience. He’s popular with evangelicals who still might have reservations about Romney. And this might be most important: He is fully vetted (remember, he went through the process in 2008, when he was a top contender to be John McCain’s running mate).
2. Rob Portman: He’s the man with the golden resume: Two-time cabinet member, congressman, senator.
3. Paul Ryan: Romney has already endorsed the Wisconsin congressman’s budget, so why not go all-in?
The Second Tier
4. Marco Rubio: He is the top Republican rising star and to count him out would be foolish.
5. Kelly Ayotte: Kelly Ayotte might be a political novice (Her successful run for the Senate in 2010 is the one and only campaign she has ever run), but she has high-level law enforcement experience as the former appointed attorney general for the state of New Hampshire. She’s also well-liked in Romneyworld.
6. Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor has policy smarts, executive experience and credibility among conservatives. Then again, he endorsed Rick Perry for president, which, for at least some Romney confidants, makes him virtually disqualified.
7. Former Secy. of State Condoleezza Rice
8. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota
9. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
10. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie
11. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell
12. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels
13. Mike Huckabee
For continued analysis from ABC News Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl: http://abcn.ws/NaBaEW
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Theodore Schleifer, CNN Newswire
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com