Mitt Romney is wrapping up his six-state "Every Town Counts" bus tour, and he hasn't been traveling alone. As his bus swung through New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the upper Midwest, Romney held "a series of rolling auditions" for potential vice presidential candidates, say Jeff Zeleny and Ashley Parker in The New York Times. Many of the Republicans believed to be on Romney's short-list joined him on the bus and on the stump, showing their mettle at rallies and allowing "Romney and his family to measure their comfort level with a potential partner on the ticket." The selection process is still a closely guarded secret (though a new ABC report suggests that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn't even being vetted), and Romney is reportedly putting priority on finding a team player who's "unquestionably prepared to be president," well-vetted, used to the national spotlight, and unlikely to harm his White House bid. Who stepped up for Romney's rolling "VP tryout extravaganza," and how did they do? Here, a brief scorecard:
1. Kelly Ayotte
The junior senator from New Hampshire was "first up to audition," appearing at both Romney events in her home state, says Sarah Huisenga at National Journal. The only female candidate on the tour obviously had a good rapport with the Romneys: As Ayotte "handed over the microphone, Ann and Mitt Romney greeted her warmly and each kissed her on the cheek," and Romney called her a "great friend." And at an ice cream social, she served the chocolate ice cream while Romney stood nearby dishing out vanilla chocolate chunk. Still, with just a year and a half in the Senate, Ayotte is generally considered something of a longshot.
2. Tim Pawlenty
Since dropping his own bid for president, the former Minnesota governor has become one of Romney's most loyal, enthusiastic surrogates. "Pawlenty's disciplined, low-key style" is a hit with Romney, says Robert Costa at National Review, and his "willingness to go anywhere — attending any event, however tedious — has won him the trust and admiration of Romney loyalists." Of all the VP contenders, Pawlenty spent the most time with Romney on the bus tour, introducing him at three events. And his spirited Obama-bashing warm-up acts seemed to up Romney's enthusiasm, says Holly Bailey at Yahoo News, inspiring the GOP nominee to deliver "a more fired-up version of his usual stump speech."
3. Rob Portman
The Ohio senator is widely seen as a frontrunner for the No. 2 slot on the GOP ticket, and he joined the Romney tour on Father's Day, pouring syrup at a pancake breakfast and lunching on burgers with Romney and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). With his long résumé, Portman may best fit Romney's "strategic imperative for governing," say Zeleny and Parker in The New York Times, and the two men comfortably "chatted about politics and policy as they chugged across Ohio." Portman could also theoretically help Romney win Ohio, says Amy Walters at ABC News, except that touring his home state on Sunday, "his name draws more question marks than exclamation points" — lots of the Buckeye State GOP faithful don't know who he is. That can't help with his audition.
4. Paul Ryan
The House GOP budget wunderkind "was the last to audition and spent the least amount of time with Romney," briefly hosting him in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., on Monday, says National Journal's Huisenga. Ryan is "a hero to conservatives," but this time he had to share the stage with other GOP heavyweights from his state, notably new potential VP contender and right-wing icon Gov. Scott Walker. Ryan introduced Romney the last time he swung through Wisconsin, but this time it was Walker at the mic "while Ryan stood offstage amid the crowd."