Ayotte Veep Speculation Mounts

VP buzz around Sen. Kelly Ayotte was already growing before she joined the Romney clan on vacation in New Hampshire yesterday. But Ann Romney has thrown fuel on it by telling CBS the campaign has been considering a female VP pick:

Ann Romney says her husband is considering a woman for the ticket—and admitted she’s been playing a big role in the VP search, too, according to an interview with CBS News.

Ann Romney doesn’t specify, but who else could she be referring to other than Ayotte? The chatter about Condoleezza Rice never seemed serious, and a Tea Party favorite like Nikki Haley would draw instant comparisons to Sarah Palin. Speculation about NM Gov. Susana Martinez also seems to have tapered down after this email flap. Ayotte is still a first-term senator, but she’s already impressed the party establishment, and she’s been a prominent and effective surrogate for Romney. That said, it would still be a bit surprising if she’s being considered seriously. If Marco Rubio’s lack of experience supposedly kept him off the short list, then why would it be any different with Ayotte? They’re both freshman senators, and both very capable on the campaign trail. Maybe this is a sign there was a deeper issue plaguing Rubio?

It’s also possible that Ayotte is being vetted as a possibility (as Rubio is) but hasn’t made it onto the short list. That’s what Erin McPike surmises at RCP:

Mitt Romney may be tight-lipped about his vice presidential short list, warning that only he and longtime aide Beth Myers know who is on it, but a close examination of the campaign’s activity suggests four contenders have risen through the ranks: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may be considered wild cards, and Romney has said he’s thoroughly vetting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, though the first-term lawmaker’s status appears unchanged.

That’s an interesting top four. Portman and Pawlenty are obviously very different picks than Ryan and Jindal. The first two are the safe and bland route, the second two would be far more exciting but riskier. Ryan in particular would be a game-changing choice, instantly turning the race into a referendum on his Path to Prosperity plan. Conservatives would love the opportunity to have that debate, but it would also be an uncharacteristically bold decision for Romney. Then there’s the question of whether Ryan would accept.