Is Anybody Boring Enough to Be Mitt Romney's Running Mate?

As he makes his search for a vice presidential nominee, Romney has plenty of dynamic choices. But the GOP's brightest stars may be too big for the No. 2 slot.

CPAC photo

ROSEMONT, Illinois -- The next major event in the 2012 presidential race will come when Mitt Romney selects a running mate. The effect could be seismic -- recall the way Sarah Palin's emergence briefly boosted John McCain's 2008 hopes, injecting his listless campaign with a sense of freshness and buzz before raising doubts about his penchant for rolling the dice. Or it could be subtle: While Joe Biden's foreign policy experience and ability to communicate with blue-collar voters are sometimes touted, few would argue his selection four years ago shook up the race, even if it did dash the final hopes of Hillary Clinton supporters.

Where things stand with Romney's thinking is anyone's guess; he has deputized a senior adviser, Beth Myers, to assess the field, and has otherwise been coy about his thinking on the process. A rising generation of Republican stars gives Romney a wide array of personalities to choose from. But there's one problem: Some of those rising stars may shine a little too bright, threatening to overshadow Romney in the process.

Take Chris Christie, for example. The blunt-talking, big-boned governor of New Jersey is beloved by GOP audiences. After seeing him speak at a regional conservative conference here, attendees were, by and large, blown away. But running mate? Most said they didn't see him that way.

"Christie is too much of a rock star," opined Sandra Steers, a 67-year-old retiree from the Chicago suburbs who attended Friday's regional Conservative Political Action Conference. "He strikes me as more of a first-place person than a number two. He's too dynamic. He would detract from Romney's style."

And so, despite the roaring cheers and rave reviews for Christie's keynote speech at CPAC Chicago -- which served as a cattle call of sorts for a handful of potential vice-presidential contenders from across the country -- he got just 14 percent of the vote in the vice-presidential straw poll of attendees. (That was good for second place out of 23, behind the 30 percent who picked Sen. Marco Rubio, who did not attend.)

The 2,000 activists who attended the conference seemed to share the notion that has hardened into Beltway conventional wisdom: For Romney's veep choice, boring is better.

Here are some more takeaways from Friday's conference, which also heard from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and three of Romney's former rivals for the nomination -- Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann.

* Portman? Portman who? Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has emerged as the odds-on veep favorite inside the Beltway, but with this crowd, he didn't register. He got just 2 percent of the straw poll vote, ranking 11th of the 23 choices offered. Of the dozen activists I spoke to, just one mentioned him. Still, that was a better showing than fellow rumored short-listers Tim Pawlenty and John Thune, who finished in the straw poll's unranked bottom 10 with less than 2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, though Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has emerged as a conservative hero with his recall election win last week, and was lauded in virtually every speech at CPAC, his heightened profile hasn't translated into a feeling he should be on Romney's ticket, either. Walker also got just 2 percent of the straw poll vote, finishing behind Portman in 13th place.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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