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Voters on GOP vice presidential candidates: Who?

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A majority of Americans — and nearly six in 10 Republicans — don’t know enough about Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, regarded as the current front-runner to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, to offer an opinion about him, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Fifty-one percent of the public has no opinion of Portman, the highest “no opinion” score among the 50 other people, issues and actions tested in weekly Post-ABC polls since last September. Among those who did have an opinion on Portman, it wasn’t good; just 19 percent view him favorably, while 30 percent see him in an unfavorable light. (Among Republicans, 21 percent viewed Portman favorably while 22 percent regarded him unfavorably.)

Waiting on the Capitol Plaza grounds, Senator Rob Portman (OH-R) is about to be driven to the airport bound for a weekend at home in Ohio, on Capitol Hill Friday, May 18, 2012. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Romney, fared better than Portman, although he too remains unknown to broad swaths of the public.

Thirty-nine percent of people had no opinion of Rubio, despite the fact that he has received a massive amount of media attention since being elected to his seat in 2010. Among Republicans, six in 10 have an opinion of Rubio, with 46 percent viewing him favorably, as compared to 14 percent who see him unfavorably.

The best-known potential vice presidential pick is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also happens to be decidedly uninterested in the position. (Sixty-three percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Bush, roughly three times the number who regard him unfavorably.) Bush took his name out of the running (again) this week, though, telling TV host Charlie Rose: “I’m not gonna do it, and I’m not going to be asked, and it’s not gonna happen.”

It’s worth noting that Rubio and Portman’s low profiles are nothing new for vice presidential hopefuls, who often lack a strong national image before being nominated to join a presidential ticket.

Fifty-one percent had no opinion of Delaware Sen. Joe Biden in a CNN/Opinion Research poll before he was picked to run in alongside then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. In 1996, 61 percent in a CNN/Time/Yankelovich poll could not rate Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) before then-Kansas Sen. Bob Dole (R) chose him to be his running mate.

What these numbers should remind us is that vice presidential picks rarely move the needle for voters — unless they are bad.

Yes, Arizona Sen. John McCain probably lost some votes when he picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate — he also totally undermined his “experience matters” message, but that’s a topic for another day — but does anyone think McCain beats Obama in 2008 no matter who he picks as his running mate? No chance.

The last vice presidential pick that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, helped a president win the nation’s highest office was in 1960 when John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson as his second-in-command. And that was more than 50 years ago!

The simple fact is that the vice presidential pick is now more about demonstrating competence and decisiveness in decision-making than it is about finding the final piece of a winning political puzzle.

In that context, it matters less who Romney picks than how he and his team can sell the decision — and how well his choice performs when the national spotlight shines on him (or her).

10 move to final stage of NRCC recruiting program: The National Republican Congressional Committee has advanced 10 candidates to the final stage of its “Young Guns” program for top recruits, the committee will announce Friday.

The candidates were already in the program, but have reached the benchmarks necessary to become so-called “Young Guns.”

The list includes four California candidates who moved on to the general election after Tuesday’s primary.

They are:

· Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann (CA-03, Garamendi)

· Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (CA-24, Capps)

· Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione (CA-41, Open)

· Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong (CA-47, Open)

· Businessman Joe Coors (CO-07, Perlmutter)

· Former congressional aide Rodney Davis (IL-13, Open)

· Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks (NY-25, Slaughter)

· State Sen. David Rouzer (NC-07, McIntyre)

· Former state police superintendent Brendan Doherty (RI-01, Cicilline)

· State Del. Rick Snuffer (WV-03, Rahall)

Poll shows North Dakota Senate race tight: Republicans have been given the early edge in the open North Dakota Senate race, but a new poll shows it won’t be easy.

The independent Mason Dixon poll conducted for two local TV stations shows former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp (D) leading Rep. Rick Berg (R) 47 percent to 46 percent — a virtual tie.

Democrats have released a couple other polls of the race showing their candidate ahead, but most observers -- including The Fix — still see the GOP as favored in the race.

“This is a story we’ve all seen and heard before from Washington Democrats,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They insisted they were going to win in North Dakota last cycle as well, right up until Rick Berg knocked off their 18 year (House)incumbent (Earl Pomeroy) by 10 points. The reality is that President Obama is deeply unpopular in North Dakota, and voters there aren’t going to send a liberal like Heidi Heitkamp to Washington to help him double down on their big government agenda.”

Fixbits:

Romney calls Obama’s economic performance a “moral failure of tragic proportions.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) continues to revamp the state Republican party, installing loyalists to top posts.

The conservative-aligned American Crossroads super PAC is going up with $1.1 million worth of ads in three Senate races: Indiana, Montana and New Mexico. Indiana is an interesting choice, considering the GOP is supposed to be favored in that race.

The Democratic-leaning American Bridge super PAC is up with a new website seeking to define Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock as “extreme.”

Establishment Republicans in retiring Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s (R-Mich.) district have settled on former state senator Nancy Cassis as their write-in candidate in the primary. Teacher Kerry Bentivolio is on the ballot, but party leaders sought a more experienced candidate to rally around after McCotter failed to make the ballot and retired.

Illinois National Guard Adjutant General William Enyart is stepping down and may seek to fill the Democrats’ ballot vacancy in retiring Rep. Jerry Costello’s (D-Ill.) district. The Democratic nominee dropped out last week, citing health problems.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability says it’s looking at targeting Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) after the two men struggled in their new districts in Tuesday’s primary. Both face fellow Democrats one-on-one in the general election.

It may soon be possible to contribute money to a political candidate via text message.

Must-reads:

Obama Begins With Tenuous Advantage” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Obama Criticizes Republicans Over Student Loan Rates” — Jackie Calmes, New York Times

Republicans clash with Attorney General Holder over voter ID laws, gun sting” — Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

At Stanford, Romney got his bearings in a year of change” — Scott Conroy and Laura Strickler, CBS Newsa

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