By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appears to be in the final stages of deciding who to pick as his vice presidential running mate, with speculation growing that he has narrowed his choice down to a short-list of three.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal all offer various strengths to Romney should he decide to pick one of them to join his battle to unseat President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, in the November 6 election.
Many Republicans believe Romney will break from tradition and announce his choice well before the party's convention in Tampa in late August that will formally nominate Romney as the Republican candidate.
Campaign officials were loathe to discuss the selection process or the short list but made clear that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had yet to make up his mind.
"No decision has been made. An announcement could happen any time between now and the convention, but it will only happen after a decision has been made and no decision has been made," said Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom.
Naming his vice presidential running mate in coming days could help Romney remove a withering spotlight instigated by the Obama campaign over his personal financial information and tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital.
The Democrats accuse Romney of leading Bain at a time when it invested in companies that outsourced U.S. jobs overseas. Romney says he was running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City at the time and had given up all management of the company.
The controversy is proving to be a distraction for the Romney campaign and overshadowing his attempt to make the election campaign about Obama's handling of the U.S. economy amid 8.2 percent unemployment and record budget deficits.
Announcing a vice presidential pick soon could break that cycle of negativity, but it could also prove to be awkward timing as Romney prepares to go on a foreign trip next week to London, Israel and Poland.
FOCUS ON PORTMAN
Many Republicans in Washington believe Romney will ultimately choose Portman, who has foreign-policy experience that Romney lacks based on his service as U.S. trade representative for Republican President George W. Bush and his current tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Romney is to campaign in Portman's home state of Ohio later this week. Portman was scheduled to be in Washington with the Senate in session.
But there is also a strong sense that Pawlenty could emerge as the No. 2. The conservative from Minnesota ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and was the first major contender to give up, after a dismal performance at the Iowa straw poll last August.
In the months since pulling out of the race, Pawlenty has been a strong surrogate for the Romney campaign and is well-liked by the candidate and his staff.
Both Portman and Pawlenty fit what some Republican advisers say is Romney's desire for a safe choice who could take over as president if necessary.
"My gut tells me he'll make a safe choice," said a Romney adviser.
Then there is Jindal, an Indian-American who met with Romney in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Monday before they appeared jointly at a fundraiser. Aides said the two men did not discuss the vice presidency.
At the event, Jindal assailed Obama as the "most liberal, incompetent president since Jimmy Carter was in the White House" in the 1970s.
"This president cannot run on his record so he has to lie about Governor Romney's record," Jindal said.
Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said Jindal, as an Indian-American, could help Romney extend his appeal beyond non-Hispanic white Americans and is well-liked among conservatives.
"He has the potential to excite conservatives more I think than any of these other candidates," said Black. "If Romney were to do that, that would be an indication he's going for broke, because a safe choice would be Portman or Pawlenty."
Others who are believed to be under consideration for the No. 2 position include New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Dakota Senator John Thune and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. (Additional reporting by Sam Youngman in Baton Rouge; Editing by David Brunnstrom)