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Starting Gate: Who Will McCain Pick?

The vice presidential guessing game has, of course, been well underway for quite some time now. But it's about to move into a new phase has summer approaches and the vetting process for both candidates begins.

To help negotiate the rumor mill, the unending speculation and the volume of names already circulating for "the lists," today launches the Republican version of a new Vice Presidential Hot Sheet. We've compiled a lengthy list of potential candidates and ranked the top ten based on media speculation, buzz, reporting and not a little bit of guesswork. It's not an authoritative or exhaustive list but it will be a dynamic one, changing based on events and developments.

To kick things off, it's helpful to look at the kinds of qualities John McCain is likely looking for in a running mate. Because age will certainly be an issue in the campaign, perhaps one of the most important considerations is competence. Making a "Quayle" pick, someone unknown and untested, may not be the best way to go. The first rule of thumb in these decisions is "do no harm," after all.

Then other tangibles come into play. McCain has admitted that the economy, the issue voters cite as their top concern, is not his strong suit, so someone with that on their resume could add heft to the ticket. Although he's already proven the ability to transcend the Republican brand and distance himself from an unpopular president, McCain may want to pick someone who doesn't carry the baggage of years in Washington. And, of course, there are those electoral considerations – can any choice bring him a key state or regional appeal?

Obviously there are many other parts of the equation, including ideology, loyalty and chemistry. And there is a vetting process that will go a long way toward whittling the list that could boost or eliminate individual candidates. That leaves us with a great, big guessing game as the process goes forward, so without further ado, here are the five candidates topping the inaugural edition of our Republican Vice Presidential Hot Sheet:

1). Mitt Romney: Wounds from the primaries have healed thanks to Romney's efforts to raise money and campaign for McCain. He's got the economic chops to fill a hole and could help in Michigan. But is the chemistry there?

2). Tim Pawlenty: Young, fresh face of the GOP, a Washington outsider and the governor from the battleground state which hosts McCain's convention. Is he ready for to be a heartbeat away?

3). Charlie Crist: If this election is all about Florida, Florida, Florida, the very popular governor of the state should be a lock. Conservatives might balk though and if McCain needs him to lock down the state, he may have bigger problems.

4). Bobby Jindal: Policy wunderkind who has little beltway baggage and brings ethnic diversity to boot. But at 37 years of age, this could be too much of a May-December match to work.

5). Tom Ridge: Always on a short list but never the pick, the third time could be a charm for the former governor of Pennsylvania, a state the GOP is eyeing once again. But pro-choice leanings could be a non-starter for party loyalists.

Check the Hot Sheet for the rest of the top ten and the full list of candidates and come back often to see who's up or down and who's been added to the list -- or to vote for your choice. Coming soon: The Democratic Vice Presidential Hot Sheet.

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