Handicapping the 2016 vice presidential field. Yes, you read that right.

A full slate of rising Republican stars has assembled in the D.C. area for the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual confab where activists mix with leading conservative voices. What better time to look at who might be in the running for vice president in 2016? (For you "it's too early to talk about this" people out there, we say: It's never too early!)


Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick (D). (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A couple of caveats before we start. First, the Democratic and Republican VP nominees will depend some on who is at the top of the ticket. The Republican field is very fluid right now while the Democratic field is frozen in place as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decides whether she will run. Our rankings are based on who is best-positioned regardless of the nominees.

Second, some of the candidates on our list are also possible/likely White House hopefuls. This doesn't mean we think they will necessarily run or lose. We're simply saying these are the folks who would probably be on the short list, provided they are not the nominee. Finally, it goes without saying that this list is subjective and will probably change as we move toward 2016.

With that, we give you our top five most likely Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees. No. 1 is the most likely pick.

To the Line!

Republicans

5. Brian Sandoval. On paper, the governor of Nevada is just what the GOP needs. He's a popular, moderate Hispanic executive from a swing state. Sandoval is expected to cruise to a second term in November, setting him up well for 2016. But not so fast. He's pro-abortion rights and expanded Medicaid in his state, two things that won't sit well with the conservative base. Plus, Sandoval may be eyeing a 2016 Senate run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For all these reasons, we think Sandoval is a long-shot. But he's on the list because few others boast such a stronger overall resume.

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4. Bobby Jindal. It's no secret that Jindal is thinking about running for president. The Louisiana governor -- and first Indian American governor anywhere -- has been pitching himself as an ideas candidate who can flash a wonky side when necessary and isn't shy about talking tough to the GOP about changing its ways. The question is whether someone so ambitious about his own rise could also be a loyal lieutenant. Still, Jindal occupies a space in which he can appeal to the base and the party establishment. That makes him an intriguing choice no matter who the GOP nominates for president.

3. Scott Walker. Like Jindal, Walker appears to have his eye on the top job in 2016. His resume is tailor made for a run at either job: Midwestern swing state governor who became a conservative hero when he took on organized labor and survived the backlash. The conservative grassroots love Walker. But moderates won't feel so warmly about him and labor and the left would savor the opportunity to oppose him in the general election. In short, Walker wouldn't be a safe VP pick. Picking him would gin up both the liberal and conservative bases. He could be the Paul Ryan of 2016 -- which could be good or bad depending on the political climate.

2. Marco Rubio. Not to sound like a broken record, but Rubio is also eyeing a run for president. Rubio's strengths: He gives one heck of a speech, has a great personal story, is young, telegenic and may be the Republican best equipped to occupy the sweet spot between the party's conservative wing and its establishment wing. What we don't know yet is how much lasting damage Rubio's push for immigration reform did to his image among conservatives. If it's a lingering problem, his stock will fall.

1. Susana Martinez. The top pick on this list is someone who has declared zero interest in running for president. Martinez, who is the first Hispanic female governor of New Mexico, is also the only GOP woman on this list. If Clinton runs and wins, Martinez could emerge as a powerful counterweight in the battle for women voters. The question marks are: 1) Whether Martinez wants it and 2) How the GOP primary ends up. Martinez stumped for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last year and defended him as he's been sullied by a traffic scandal involving former aides. If Christie runs and she endorses him, Martinez would be well-positioned if he gets the nomination. If Martinez does so and Christie loses, the candidate who beats him might not quickly forget it.

Democrats

5. Cory Booker. Young, energetic and never camera-shy, the new New Jersey Senator could provide a boost of energy (and youth) for a Democratic ticket led by Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden. The New Jersey senator is African American, which would help Democrats as they aim to keep up (or at least not lose too much of) the enthusiasm among African American voters that was there for President Obama's two historic campaigns. If Clinton is the nominee, Booker's status as a fresh face would counteract the inevitable Republican attacks that Democrats are running a '90s party campaign of the past. The downside of picking Booker is that he's been known to go off-script and his 2013 special election campaign was less than stellar. Remember the 2012 Sunday show appearance in which he criticized an ad hitting Mitt Romney? We bet Clinton does.

4. Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand has quickly gone from obscure swing district House member to popular liberal senator from New York with a growing national profile. She's been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, but if Clinton runs, kiss any chance of her also making a White House bid goodbye. Gillibrand is a very capable fundraiser and has made her mark on women's issues.

3. The Castro brothers. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was introduced to the country to rave reviews when he keynoted the 2012 Democratic National Convention. His brother Joaquin serves in Congress. Viewed as two of the brightest rising stars in the party, the Castros, who are Mexican American, would have to be considered top choices for Clinton. Like Booker, they would add some youth and newness to the ticket. Plus, they are from Texas, which Democrats are trying to turn purple. And their Hispanic heritage makes them natural messengers to help the party grow its advantage over the GOP among Latino voters. Both are still relatively inexperienced at the national level. And Julian Castro might have his eye more on running for governor.

2. Elizabeth Warren. There is no Democrat right now with stronger appeal to the Democratic Party's liberal base than the Massachusetts senator. At a time when fatigue over Obama is on the increase, Warren has been just the shot in the arm the liberal movement has been looking for. She's viewed by the left as as a relentless fighter for economic equality and a fearless opponent of Wall Street. In short, she occupies a lane that no other Democrat does right now. Clinton has never been a favorite of the left and adding Warren to the ticket could give the ticket a much-needed boost of liberal energy.

1. Deval Patrick. The governor of Massachusetts seems open to the idea of a national bid. He gave a very well-received speech on the national stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He's been a loyal Obama surrogate. And he made history with his 2006 election, becoming just the second African American governor since Reconstruction. Keeping African American voters enthusiastic without Obama at the top of the ticket will be a challenge for Clinton, if she runs. Picking Patrick would give the ticket an experienced figure with a strong ability to reach out to black voters.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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