There is nothing — literally, nothing — that the Fix loves more in politics than the speculation surrounding who the presidential candidate will pick as his vice presidential running mate.

View Photo Gallery: Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Susana Martinez and more: Take a look at the Fix’s picks for Romney’s VP.

But, the events of the past few days have changed all of that. Mitt Romney’s 12-point victory in Illinois coupled with the endorsement of former Florida governor Jeb Bush — not to mention the kind words South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint had for him — make clear that the former Massachusetts governor is now the near-certain GOP nominee.

And that means that the speculation about Romney’s vice president can now begin in earnest. (Whew!) Before we get to our first (of many) rankings of the 10 men and women in contention to be Romney’s choice let’s go through two big caveats.

1. The vice presidential pick is made by a very small number of people — see “Game Change” — which complicates any attempt to handicap the process.

2. It’s still quite early to talk about vice presidential picks, given that Romney won’t likely name his selection until mid to late August. (The Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, Florida beginning on Aug. 27, which means the pick will be made by then.)

The Fix is never one to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, however. And so, our top 10 veep picks for Romney are below. The number one ranked candidate is considered the most likely to wind up sharing the national ticket with Romney this fall.

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To the Line!

10. Paul Ryan: The Wisconsin Republican House Member’s dream, according to those who know him well, is to be the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in 2015. (Weird, we know.) In the past two years, he has turned down a Senate race where he would have been a clear favorite and a presidential contest that he was being heavily courted to join. All of that leads us to believe he isn’t interested in being the pick. That said, he is from a swing state, is beloved by the policy wonk side of the party and is the lead face on the issue of the day in the country (debt and spending).

9. Mitch Daniels: Like Ryan, Daniels has built a national reputation for speaking uncomfortable truths on debt/spending issues. And, like Ryan, the Indiana governor turned down a race for president this year despite a not-insignificant amount of evidence that he would have entered the contest as the favorite. It’s very hard to say “no” to an offer to serve as vice president but if anyone could do it, Daniels would be the guy.

8. Tim Pawlenty: Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, endorsed Romney shortly after getting out of the race in his own right in late August 2011. Pawlenty’s best attribute is his loyalty; his worst is his decided lack of charisma. While Pawlenty would clearly be a safe pick — that’s the main reason he was one of the finalists as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008 — it’s hard to imagine that putting Tpaw on the ticket would generate any real excitement either among the GOP base or with independents.

7. John Thune: On the one hand, Thune is a Plains state (South Dakota, to be exact) Senator with good looks and an almost-impeccable conservative reputation. On the other, he’s a creature of the Senate — he’s a member of the party’s leadership in the world’s greatest deliberative body — and there are questions about how much he wants it after he took a pass on a presidential bid this time around. Which argument is more compelling to Team Romney?

6. Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor may well be the most popular politician in the Republican party at the moment — thanks to his relentlessly confrontational style and regular-guy manner. He also endorsed Romney immediately after deciding that the presidential race wasn’t for him. (We also think Christie’s 2013 reelection bid will be very tough, meaning he may be in the market for a different job before then.) Of course, Christie’s personality is more built to be the man, not the man standing next to the man. (Sidenote: Always remember, in the immortal words of Ric Flair, that “to be the man, you got to beat the man.” So true.) And, there’s no way that Christie on the ticket delivers New Jersey for Romney.

5. Susana Martinez: Martinez may be the least well known name on this list. She was elected with relatively little fanfare in 2010 as the governor of New Mexico, the first Hispanic woman governor — Democrat or Republican — in the country. Romney has floated Martinez’s name as a potential vice president and the Land of Enchantment is regarded as a swing state this fall. Still, Martinez was the Dona Anna County District Attorney less than four years ago and may not yet be ready for the national spotlight.

4. Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor is widely seen as a candidate for president in 2016 (if Romney comes up short this November) or 2020 (if Romney wins). Reelected to a second term last November with a remarkable 67 percent of the vote, Jindal remains one of the most popular — and conservative — governors in the country. If Romney picked Jindal, the Louisiana governor would make history as the first Indian-American on a national party ticket. One wonders whether Jindal’s 2009 Republican response — the last time he was exposed to a national audience — worries the Romney veep pickers.

3. Rob Portman: Portman is the Pawlenty of the 2012 vice presidential sweepstakes. The Ohio Senator is the safe pick, having proven himself as an able candidate during his 2010 Senate victory and a strong surrogate in helping lead Romney to victory in the Ohio primary earlier this month. Portman’s prior experience — he served as the head of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush Administration — is a double-edged sword for Romney. Portman is unquestionably an expert on budget matters but he was also part of an Administration that drastically ballooned the national debt. Portman seems virtually certain to be in the final three when decision time comes for Romney.

2. Bob McDonnell: McDonnell is the popular governor of perhaps the swingiest state, er, Commonwealth in the country. His 2009 gubernatorial campaign proved that if Republicans focused unswervingly on a jobs and the economy — “Bob’s for Jobs” — message that they could win major elections in toss-up states. McDonnell has also been the most outspoken about his interest in the v.p. job; “We’ll see,” he responded when pressed about his interest in the gig. (Worth noting: Because of Virginia’s odd one-term limit on its governor, McDonnell will be out of a job at the end of 2013 no matter what.) McDonnell’s recent involvement in a national controversy about trans-vaginal ultrasounds has drawn some negative attention to him but he remains a major player in the veepstakes.

1. Marco Rubio: Debating about who the frontrunner is to be the vice presidential pick is sort of like debating about who is the best soccer player in the world. There’s no real debate. In soccer, it’s Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. (Don’t believe us? Watch this. Then read this.). In the veepstakes, it’s Rubio. The case for Rubio is simple and close to conclusive. He’s Hispanic, giving the GOP an opportunity to reestablish some sort of foothold in that electorally critical community. He’s from Florida, a major swing state. He’s a tea party favorite thanks to destruction of moderate Governor Charlie Crist in a Senate primary in 2010. And, he’s young; at 42 years old, Rubio is 23 years Romney’s junior. Rubio’s not perfect — we hear whispers that his time in the state legislature could be mined by a good opposition researcher — but he’s a clear number one choice in our Line.