Rating The Running Mates

Picking a running mate is serious business in spite of the often carnival-like atmospherics that can accompany it. Clandestine meeting with prospective candidates, endless speculation and jockeying among various boosters aside, it's generally the first major decision made by two individuals auditioning for the job of running the country.

"The first consideration is to find a candidate who won't do you any harm," former Senator George Mitchell tells Katie Couric on tonight's "Evening News." After that, the specifications of what makes a good running mate are as different as the presumptive nominees themselves (watch tonight's Evening News show for the full report).

Who are some of those potential candidates now surfacing? Let's take a look at some of them and what they potentially bring to the table for the candidates. Let us know what you think about the list and who else should be considered and why either in the comments section or Email us here. And remember, this process is just beginning and these names will change over time.

The decision facing presumptive GOP nominee John McCain thus far has spurred the most speculation for obvious reasons. Conventional wisdom suggests that McCain needs to balance the ticket in several key areas – he needs a conservative to soothe his relations with a key part of the GOP base, someone from outside of Washington to counter his years spent in the U.S. Senate and someone younger who can be seen as a future standard-bearer for the party.

A tall order and few candidates fulfill all those perceived needs. Some don't fill any of them yet still bring a certain rationale. Here's who's getting the most attention thus far:

Mitt Romney: While the two had bitter exchanges during the GOP primary, Romney and McCain have quickly come together and the former Massachusetts governor has all but publicly announced his availability. On the plus side, Romney became popular among conservatives during the primary, fills a policy hole in McCain's resume on economic issues and could help put Michigan into play this fall. Downsides include Romney's failure to take advantages of his huge financial advantages in the primary and lingering questions about authenticity and his the impact of his religion.

Tim Pawlenty: The Governor of Minnesota was one of McCain's earliest and most dedicated supporters and one of the party's rising stars. Having been elected where Democrats have held in recent elections, he would certainly put his home state into play and it doesn't hurt that the GOP convention will take place in Minneapolis. The downside may be that Pawlenty is young, maybe too young and too unknown to thrust onto the national stage.

Mark Sanford: Another youthful governor who could energize conservatives, the South Carolinian also shares McCain's disdain for government spending (he once brought a pair of live pigs into the statehouse to protest "pork" spending in the state). But Sanford doesn't help McCain geographically in any meaningful way. If the Republican nominee is in trouble in South Carolina, he's in trouble everywhere.

Rob Portman: The former Ohio congressman and OMB director fills a great many of McCain's needs. He shores up perceived weaknesses in McCain's economic knowledge, hails from a key state and is considerably younger than the nominee. But he lacks star power in a campaign that has been dominated by personalities, something that could be damaging depending upon who ends up filling out the Democratic ticket.

Charlie Crist: On paper, the Florida governor is almost certain to make McCain's short list. His endorsement of McCain just prior to Florida's primary helped begin the process of wrapping up the nomination. Crist is wildly popular in an immensely important state and holds many positions to soothe conservatives. He is viewed suspiciously among some in the party on social issues but is certain to get a lot of attention in coming weeks and months.

Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor hung in against McCain longer than any of his rivals and became a near household name in the process. Huckabee would help McCain among social conservatives, particularly evangelicals. But he never was able to become much more than a regional candidate within a region that should already be strong Republican territory in November.

Condoleezza Rice: President Bush's Secretary of State has long been a figure buzzed about as a potential presidential candidate and, should Barack Obama win the Democratic nomination, would be a tempting way to offer both a counter to black voters and to women. But Rice's identification with the war in Iraq one place McCain does not need help. An all-war ticket is probably not a winner in November.

Kay Bailey Hutchison: The Texas Senator's name has popped up from time to time in the search for a Republican woman who might appeal to Hillary Clinton voters feeling left out should she not end up with the nomination or on the ticket. But such sole considerations are unlikely to win the day in filling out the ticket. Coming from both the Senate and a state Republicans should win might keep her off the short list.

Trying to come up with a list of Democratic names is a lot harder, only because the two candidates must come first regardless of who ends up at the top of the ticket. Despite speculation that neither Clinton nor Obama would take the number two spot, there may end up being a lot of pressure on them to do just that. A party divided along lines of race, gender and economic and educational stations in life may be better healed with a unity ticket. Not to mention the collective "huh?" that might greet any other arrangement by an electorate already used to the idea of two such historic candidacies. If not, the list will begin growing immediately. Here are a just a few names already being whispered:

Ted Strickland: The governor of Ohio will be on either candidate's list. Already sensing an opportunity in a state where Republicans have been scarred by a series of local political scandals, Strickland would put a dagger in GOP hopes of pulling out this all-important state. Relatively unknown nationally, Strickland still has to be a major player in the selection process.

Bill Richardson: Having been called a "Judas" by one of Clinton's highes profile supporters for endorsing Obama, Richardson would be a more likely choice for Obama who will need to find inroads with Hispanics should he win the nomination. But Richardson's own less-than-inspiring campaign did little to give Democrats confidence about his ability to play on the big stage.

Tim Kaine: Democrats see Virginia as a red state they can win in 2008 and putting the governor on the ticket for either candidate would be an interesting gambit. He's also not from Washington, another benefit for both. But if Virginia is in play anyway, does either need him to take it?

Evan Bayh: Once thought of a strong presidential candidate in his own right, the Indiana senator would help the ticket not only in his home state but potentially throughout the entire Midwest. As a moderate, Bayh also could help blunt expected criticisms by Republicans that the Democratic nominee will be a typical "liberal" regardless of which one wins.

Joe Biden: With over 30 years spend in the U.S. Senate, Biden is not the perfect running mate for either, but would likely only be considered by Obama. After a primary campaign where he has been routinely criticized for his lack of experience, Biden is just the kind of elder statesman who might help soothe those concerns.

Both lists will grow and evolve over time as the process continues and the relative strengths and weaknesses are examined and discussed. Who else should be on the list? Let us know.