Marco Rubio’s personal popularity could probably win Florida’s crucial votes (likely Jeb Bush would as well) and his Cuban background could help attract the sizable Latino votes in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. (Even if he is considered too young this year, these facts likely indicate a bright national future for Mr. Rubio.)
Since the Civil War era, no Republican nominee has been elected president without carrying Ohio. (Had George W. Bush lost Ohio in either 2000 or 2004, he would have been defeated.) Sen. Rob Portman may be nationally unknown, but he has served in the House, the Bush cabinet (as U.S. Trade Representative and budget director), and the Senate while leading the GOP ticket in their 2010 sweep of Ohio.
Romney may also consider Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was a favorite among “deficit hawks” when he served in the House during the 1990s. But Portman ran ahead of Kasich in 2010, and Gov. Kasich has feuded bitterly with labor in Ohio.
Chris Christie would definitely put New Jersey’s 15 votes in play, plus he could appeal to suburbanites in other states. But his outspoken personality would overshadow Romney. Tim Pawlenty is well-known in the Midwest, but he showed little national promise during his brief 2011 presidential effort.
Republicans currently don’t have a governor or senator from Colorado to choose from. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has certainly become a national figure with his anti-labor fight. The new Hispanic governors of Nevada (Brian Sandoval) and New Mexico (Susana Martinez) represent swing states and would bolster Romney’s ethnic appeal, but they are only in their first terms. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett are in their first terms as well.
In the “chess match” scenario, the leading contenders at this early stage must be Ohio’s Portman and Florida’s Rubio.