The Republican Party's veepstakes are kicking into high gear, and a longshot option — New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte — has suddenly strode into the spotlight. The popular young senator joined presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday as he campaigned in the Granite State, in what political strategists called a "tryout" for the vice presidential slot. Would Ayotte help the Romney ticket? Here, a brief guide:
Who is Kelly Ayotte?
She's the junior senator from New Hampshire. Earlier in her career, she was the state's first female attorney general. Ayotte has fought against gun bans, and strongly opposes abortion. (She once took a parental notification case to the U.S. Supreme Court despite her governor's opposition.) With the backing of Sarah Palin, who called Ayotte a "Mama Grizzly," Ayotte was the only woman elected to the Senate in 2010. In short, says WhoRunsGov, "Ayotte is a conservative's dream."
What would she bring to the ticket?
She has proven herself a reliable surrogate for the Romney campaign, having endorsed the former Massachusetts governor before he handily won her state's primary in January. She's popular in New Hampshire, a key general-election battleground state, and has stumped with Romney there, as well as in other swing states. The potential running mates are visibly at ease with each other, and Ayotte could help Romney win over women voters, who now favor President Obama by double digits.
If she's so great, why isn't she the VP frontrunner?
She and Romney are both from the Northeast, so, unlike other possible nominees, she wouldn't help Romney add geographic balance to the ticket, says former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top Romney campaign adviser. She also wouldn't add ethnic balance to the ticket the way, say, Marco Rubio would.
What are her chances?
Ayotte is one of about 20 people Romney is seriously considering as a running mate, Sununu says. Romney himself says he's looking at about 15 names, "including Kelly Ayotte."
Does Ayotte want the job?
She's being somewhat coy about it. "I just don't see that happening," Ayotte tells Politico, insisting that her focus is on doing the job her constituents elected her to do. But she also hints that she wouldn't turn down the VP spot if Romney offered it. "I'll do whatever the campaign wants me to do to help make sure that we win in November," Ayotte says.