Is a 2012 VP Run Too Risky for the Shortlist?

Before the No. 1 on the Republican 2012 presidential ballot has even been decided, there's incredible buzz and speculation about who the No. 2 on the ticket should be.

The excitement and odds-making is largely a reflection of whom many would have liked to see on the presidential ballot, and embodies hope that the perfect addition to a Mitt Romney ticket would fill in the nooks and crannies to make the GOP ticket simultaneously more appealing to both the base and a wider swathe of the electorate.

Swing-state voters? There's a pick for that. Conservatives who don't think Romney is conservative enough? There's a pick for that. The ever-growing bloc of Latino voters? There's a pick for that. Women, who currently skew heavily toward the Democratic ticket? There's a candidate for that.

George Will said Sunday, "I've never met an American who said I voted for presidential candidate A because of running mate B." The hope that a vice presidential pick will shift a campaign into high gear and keep it there was attempted in 2008, and Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States.

If that strategy is attempted again, who will say "yes" if the stakes include potential damage to one's political future? After all, we are in 2012 but 2016 is just around the corner.

Whom would the Democrats run in 2016? Vice President Joe Biden has soaked up the adulation when campaign crowds have cheered on the possibility of a White House run, and heaven knows that was the career politician's goal when he unsuccessfully tried to get the Dem nod in 1988 and 2008. It's not a good sign, though, when political analysts spend the latter half of the president's first term speculating whether the gaffetastic Biden will be replaced on Obama's 2012 ticket.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed that speculation in an interview Sunday, saying, "Biden is a great guy, enjoys his own popularity in the country."

"I do think, though, the secretary should entertain the thought of running in 2016," Pelosi added.

Hillary Clinton, who gave Obama a run for his money in 2008, said in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell that she'll be happy to take a break after this term; it's been known for a while that she has been looking forward to leaving the State Department.

"I want to do the best job I can as the secretary of state for this president," she said. "I want to then take some time to get reconnected to, you know, the stuff that makes life worth living, you know, family, friends, the sort of activities that I enjoy. And I'll do some writing and some speaking, and I'm sure I'll be continuing to advocate on these issues." Not exactly long-term plans guaranteed to gobble up more than four years.

Aside from Clinton, other 2016 speculation is tipped to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), former Virginia Gov. and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, and even Obama's onetime strongman Rahm Emanuel or Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) could resurrect into the political world, though he gave me the classic noncommittal presidential aspirations answer when I pressed him on the subject after he gave a stump-ish speech to AIPAC in 2010, shortly before he retired. Though even former Pennsylvania Gov. and DNC Chairman Ed Rendell recently said "Andrew should look elsewhere" because "it's going to be Hillary Clinton in 2016."

Just a couple of weeks ago, Politico advanced the idea that Biden in 2016 is "not so crazy" -- though Lord only knows what crazy things will come out of the VP's mouth in the next four years -- because of the A-list advisers he's been lining up behind the scenes. Biden, who would be 73 in 2016, has been relied on by Obama for early campaign stumping, included his spring series of four speeches targeted at key constituencies that are supposed to lay the bedrock of a 2012 strategy.

Add this potential roster to America's natural tendency to vacillate between Republicans and Democrats, and if Romney can't make Obama a one-term president it would be a cakewalk for the right Republican after Obama runs rampant with policy in the lame-duck years. One could argue that this was a banner year for Republican presidential hopefuls considering Obama's track record and sad polling trends, but at this point it appears that a Republican victory is anything but assured and the cyclical economic trends are bouncing back in Obama's favor.

As a Republican relatively early in your career, you've got to look at the landscape and weigh some serious decisions.

Will hopping on a ticket now give you the valuable name recognition and experience on the stump to pave the way for future political aspirations?

Or would it give you a stinging amount of media exposure before you've politically matured enough? If you jump on board a losing ticket, is your brand forever scarred?

Simply put, while many clamor that being the No. 2 would be the party's best hope, the GOP's best and brightest will be weighing whether the VP nod is in his or her best interest right now.