Mitt Romney's campaign has made it pretty clear he won't have a running mate like Sarah Palin, one plucked from obscurity with only a couple years in office and little experience with foreign policy. Unfortunately, that describes pretty much all their non-Palin options. While the people frequently named on the veepstakes list are familiar to political reporters and local voters, no one else knows who they are. There's no guarantee they won't say embarrassing things. Take, for instance, Rep. Allen West. Now, in fairness, his fitness as a running mate was primarily floated by fellow YouTube star Herman Cain and Sarah Palin herself. But he demonstrated quite effectively that the temptation to stay inflammatory, ahistorical, and frankly ridiculous things, is near irresistible in the media-addicted wing of the conservative movement. The Florida congressman told Palm City voters Tuesday night that he's "heard" as many as 80 House Democrats are not just socialists, but straight-up members of the Communist Party. The Palm Beach Post reports he did not name any of the commies. Update: West clarified his comments, saying he meant the 75 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, though if you watch the video, he doesn't seem like he's joking.
It's been widely reported that Romney is cautious, and his focus in picking a running mate will be on credibility, instead of whatever politician can win over swing voters and smile real nice on TV. And yet, all of the people named as likely vice-presidential candidates are on those lists because of their theoretical appeal to independents or swing state voters and how relatively telegenic they are. Just like Palin, they're mostly unknown nationally, and will leave voters wondering, "Who are those guys?" And like Palin, most of them have been in office only a couple years. It seems impossible that Romney's eventual "No More Palins" veepstakes committee won't be able to avoid picking someone with a couple Palinesque qualities. Here's our guide to the people on the list. We've used photos from their Facebook pages to give a sense how they'd present themselves.
Potential veeper: Allen West
Veep appeal: He represents Florida -- a swing state! -- and served in the Army for 20 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Also, Republicans hate identity politics except when they think it can help them (see Palin's cracked ceiling line in her 2008 convention speech).
Secret crazy potential: High. He was forced to retire for his interrogation of an Iraqi detainee in which he shot a gun next to the detainee's head. And his tendency to say unexpected things to reporters is not so secret, even after only a year and a half in office, as in the case of his weirdly retro redbaiting Tuesday night.
Chances of getting picked: Very low.
Potential veep: Chris Christie
Veep appeal: Christie has proved quite capable of framing his fights with public employees unions as making tough decisions in tough economic times. He's famously sassy -- YouTubes of him yelling at teachers and reporters have gone viral. (Seriously: 1.1 million views of a politician yelling at a teacher.)
Secret crazy potential: Moderate. Christie has a tendency to be confrontational -- not just to reporters, whom most Americans hate, but to voters at town halls. On the other hand, his tendency to yell at people on camera is now taken as an endearing quirk, not a personality flaw. A majority of New Jersey voters -- 54 percent -- see Christie as a leader, while only 39 percent think he's a bully, new poll from Quinnipiac shows.
Chances of getting picked: Moderate to low. If Romney's campaign agrees with the popular analysis that he needs to do something to win over skeptical evangelicals, Christie's not the guy to do it. He represents a blue state and is moderate on social issues. Romney has a huge deficit among women, but Christie is far more popular with men. The Quinnipiac poll shows 52 percent of New Jersey women like him, while 67 percent of men do. As for the bully/leader question, 44 percent of women think he's a bully, while 49 percent think he's a leader. Also, Romney is not going to win New Jersey.
Potential veep: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez
Veep appeal: She's a Latina Republican from a swing state and personally popular.
Secret crazy potential: Low to moderate. Martinez has only been in office a year, so she hasn't had much chance to say anything weird. She has a moderate record that's focused on good governance. But then, so did Sarah Palin.
Chances of getting picked: Fairly low. Martinez says she would refuse an offer to be Romney's running mate for a concrete and understandable reason: she has to take care of her developmentally disabled sister and father with Altzheimer's. “The family has to be a consideration, and for me to take (my sister) to Washington would be to separate her from... the family that’s down there, and that would be devastating," Martinez told a local newspaper recently. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Potential veep: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell
Veep appeal: He's the popular governor of a potential swing state. Politico's James Hohmann says McDonnell "should not be overlooked or forgotten for VP buzz," and points out that McDonnell is in New York, hanging out with surprise GOP statesman Donald Trump.
Secret crazy potential: Moderate to high. McDonnell doesn't have a record of saying weird things as governor, but in 2009, his master's thesis was unearthed and showed a fixation on the culture wars. It included lots of uses of words like “fornicator," "feminist," "homosexual," "prayer in schools," and "working women," Hanna Rosin noted. She concluded, "Pick any culture war issue and young McDonnell has, in this paper, taken the most extreme side of it." Earlier this year and after much controversy, McDonnell stripped a measure from a state abortion bill that would have forced a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion.
Chances of getting picked: He sure hopes it's high. Despite telling CBS News that he was "happy" holding the same job as Thomas Jefferson, he also said of his state, "I think it's going to be competitive… I expect Romney to win but it's going to take a lot of hard work."
Potential veep: Rob Portman
Veep appeal: The Republican senator from the swing state of Ohio is "the latest name to get significant buzz in Washington," The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid writes. "It’s a media boomlet that could be wrong, especially this far in advance, and it’s based on speculation rather than on inside knowledge." Romney's more famous running mates, he says, "are all relatively untested." Portman, who also served as White House budget director, could actually take over as president if needed.
Secret crazy potential: Low. He doesn't have a record of saying weird things after years of public service. Even his name is boring.
Chances of getting picked: High, according to Politico.
Potential veep: Nikki Haley
Veep appeal: Female governor of Sikh heritage who's pretty good at talking on TV.
Secret crazy potential: Moderate to high. She's only been in office a year. On the other hand, the Tea Party-backed governor was an early endorser of the not Tea Party-backed Romney, which might indicate an appreciation for cautiousness even if it borders on boring. In fact, it seems more likely that crazy things will be said about Haley than by Haley. When she was running for governor, a South Carolina lawmaker complained, "We've already got a raghead in the White House, we don't need another raghead in the governor's mansion." During that campaign, blogger claimed he'd had an affair with Haley, but offered no evidence. Last week, anonymous and false reports that she was about to be indicted for tax fraud were reported on a state blog and picked up on national sites, including this one.
Chances of getting picked: Low. Her approval rating is super low in South Carolina, a state that's only competitive if Romney is getting destroyed anyway.
Potential veep: Marco Rubio
Veep appeal: He's a popular senator from Florida, a swing state, and loved by the Tea Party, and Latino.
Secret crazy potential: High. Rubio's a "a relatively untested choice," Politico says, having only been in office a year. And like Palin, Rubio tends to overreact when he gets negative press. His campaign appears to have declared war on Univision after it reported that Rubio's uncle had a drug conviction decades ago, The New Yorker reported.
Chances of getting picked: Moderate. His demographic appeal makes him awfully tempting despite being a freshman senator.
Potential veep: Paul Ryan
Veep appeal: The Wisconsin congressman is the beloved budget hero of conservatives, and though he's slightly awkward, he looks nice on TV. Wisconsin could maybe be a swing state this year.
Secret crazy potential: Moderate. The New Yorker called Ryan radical, but not for social issues. His proposed budget would make huge cuts in spending in almost every part of the government outside the Pentagon and benefits for old folks. "Any doubt that Ryan’s choices are dictated by ideology rather than economics vanish when you look at one area of spending that he wants to increase: the defense budget," James Surowiecki says. "Ryan’s uncharacteristic munificence toward defense requires his cuts elsewhere to be even more draconian, effectively starving most of the rest of the government to death." But budget radicalism doesn't make nearly as good YouTubes as radical quips about gay rights or abortion.
Chances of getting picked: Moderate. Ryan's been doing his very best to win Romney over. "He reminds me of a lot of people I grew up with, a lot of people I know, who have that Midwest earnestness. He's kind of a throwback to the '50s" Ryan said of Romney, BuzzFeed notes. "He's a very funny dude." And later: "I grew up watching Leave it to Beaver, idolizing Mr. Cleaver, Ward Cleaver, and [Romney] has these great attributes, which is he’s a very nice, civil man and he’s very earnest."