The widespread speculation has been that Rubio is the leading contender. He’s popular with the tea party and his Cuban American roots — Romney has said he embodies “the American dream” — could help capture Hispanic voters.
“Romney’s greatest challenge in the party is with the right wing of the party, which is what that ‘Anybody But Mitt’ movement has been,” one major Romney fundraiser said. “That would suggest that you go toward the conservative wing, quite possibly as well that you go South. Where does that conversation quickly take everybody? It takes you to Marco.”
But the 40-year-old first-term senator is untested on a national stage, something one Romney supporter said “absolutely” gives the Romney team pause.
Other rising stars would check certain boxes for Romney. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is from a swing state and is Hispanic. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley could help soothe tensions with Romney across the traditional South. But like Rubio, they are relatively inexperienced.
Another factor is whether contenders have been helpful to Romney. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell endorsed him at critical moments and campaigned for him.
But some Romney supporters noted that McDonnell could hurt Romney with women voters considering his graduate thesis critical of working women and unwed mothers and a bill this spring requiring women to undergo ultrasound procedures before having abortions.
Similarly, a prominent Romney fundraiser said Christie would be “risky because his bombasticness might not travel as well as you’d hope.”
One candidate who could conform to what Romney may want is Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio). A Cabinet member in George W. Bush’s administration, Portman could be an experienced governing partner. So could Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, although he has signaled, as has former Florida governor Jeb Bush, that he is not be interested in the job.
Even as they begin weighing the pros and cons of contenders, Romney’s advisers and supporters stressed that the candidate has given it little thought yet. When Jay Leno asked him to handicap his short list on “The Tonight Show” this week, Romney said, “I haven’t actually put a list together at this stage.”
“It would be presumptuous,” Romney said, prodding Leno to tease him for not even talking about it with his wife.
If he follows tradition, Romney will seriously consider eight to 10 candidates — a short list that some said could also include Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty — and then whittle his list down to four or five who will undergo a rigorous vetting.
In 2008, McCain vetted Romney along with Palin, so Romney knows how expensive and painstaking the vetting process can be for a candidate, who has to procure years of financial and personal records. “I don’t think he’ll put somebody through a formal vetting if there’s not a realistic possibility of their selection,” said one adviser. “There will be a premium placed on not embarrassing people.”