Final VP rankings: 1) Pawlenty, 2) Portman, 3) Rubio

What would Pawlenty add? Probably not a great deal in the Electoral College, though he could have an impact in his home region. Romney would probably dispatch him primarily to the Midwest, where Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin could all be hotly contested, and where Pawlenty’s regular-guy background might go over better than Romney’s corporate credentials. Pawlenty’s home state of Minnesota probably won’t be in play in any event — it has the nation’s longest streak of voting Democratic at the presidential level (since 1976) — although it could flip in the event of an unlikely Romney rout. (Minnesota has spasms of real competitiveness, and one day it is going to surprise the pundits in a presidential election.) If Pawlenty is selected, it will not be because Romney thinks he will win Minnesota (in Pawlenty’s two successful runs for governor, he never received a majority of the popular vote). Rather, it would be because Romney wants a safe running mate who provides some regional and stylistic balance to the ticket. Pawlenty fits the bill, which is why his stock is so high.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who previously led our list, remains our top co-contender, and he would also be a safe pick in an election in which Romney wants to limit his mistakes and keep the national focus on the incumbent. Portman, though, isn’t as nationally well-vetted as Pawlenty and isn’t as good of a stump speaker. On the other hand, the Crystal Ball has long believed Portman can add a point or two to Romney in a state any Republican almost certainly must have to win.