* Campaign official says no decision has been made
* Portman, Pawlenty, Jindal among top names
* Safe choice seen as likely scenario
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, July 16 (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 Nov. 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)
Who: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) The Buzz: McDonnell endorsed Mitt Romney, the only candidate besides Ron Paul to make it on his state's ballot, and Romney said last summer that McDonnell would be on "any candidate's short-list" as a VP pick. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has already started referring to McDonnell as "Mr. Vice President." His Response: McDonnell said on "Meet The Press" in March that he wasn't interested in the position. "I've got the job held by Jefferson and Henry," he said. "I love being governor of Virginia."
Who: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) The Buzz: Christie fielded numerous calls to run in 2012, and is now attracting speculation as a possible VP pick by Mitt Romney, who called Christie, "one of the leading figures in the Republican party." His Response: Christie didn't do much to quell the rumors in December when he addressed them by saying: I don't think you talk about that stuff. I think if you're the nominee you're afraid to talk about that stuff because you don't want to jinx yourself. I don't think [Romney] wants to be presumptuous enough to start talking to somebody about a vice president when he's not yet the nominee.
Who: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) The Buzz: Newt Gingrich called Rubio an "awfully good" choice, while Mitt Romney named him as an obvious choice for the short-list. As the Huffington Post's Carlos Harrison reported, "He's the posterboy for a demographic coveted by the GOP: a telegenic Tea Party favorite and a Latino. And despite being both young and a freshman among Washington, D.C., power brokers, he exerts outsized influence." His Response: Rubio himself seems less enthusiastic: When asked at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington DC, Rubio repeated twice for emphasis, "I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee. I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee." Asked during the forum if he would turn down an offer if the Republican presidential nominee asks him to, Rubio responded, "Yea, I believe so," adding again, "the answer is gonna be no."
Who: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) The Buzz: Ahead of the Nevada caucus, Sandoval was speculated to be a potential VP pick: Nevada's governor Brian Sandoval has been bandied about as a potential -- if longshot -- veep choice since his election in 2010. On paper, his resume looks solid. He's a young rising star in the party with strong approval ratings and, as a Hispanic Republican, could help a Republican nominee -- and especially Romney -- stop the bleeding with one of the party's weakest general election demographics. While no candidates have floated his name for VP yet, Mitt Romney did mention him as a possible Cabinet member. His Response: After endorsing Rick Perry last September, Sandoval denied that he was looking for a VP nod. "I am absolutely committed to serving out my term," he said.
Who: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) The Buzz: Haley's endorsement of Mitt Romney didn't do him much good in the state, but her name has still come up as a possible candidate for VP. Her Response: "I'd say, 'Thank you, but no,'" Haley told ABC News. "I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it."
Who: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) The Buzz: Martinez has attracted attention as the first female Hispanic governor, and Mitt Romney mentioned her as a good possible running mate. Her Response: Martinez has said she's flattered, but not interested: "She has no interest in serving as vice president and will not be a candidate for the position," Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement according to the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday.
Who: Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) The Buzz: Barbour was considered a promising candidate for the 2012 nomination until he decided not to run last summer. Mitt Romney has mentioned Barbour as a name he'd consider for vice president. His Response: Barbour wouldn't turn down the possibility of being VP, but he said he didn't anticipate being asked. "I don't think I'm a good running mate for anybody, but I do think Marco Rubio would be very attractive as would other people," he told FOX last November.
Who: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) The Buzz: Daniels hasn't endorsed a candidate yet, but he's considered a potential pick for the VP slot. His book, "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans," added to the hype. His Response: Daniels was asked about the possibility last fall: "There's no answer to this question," Daniels said when the vice president's job came up while he was promoting his book. He said he'd have to consult his family, which earlier vetoed the idea of him running for president.
Who: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) The Buzz: Brewer made headlines for a confrontation with President Barack Obama at an airport in Phoenix. Does Brewer want another chance to take on the Obama administration? The Arizona Republic reports that her name has surfaced as a possible VP candidate. Her Response: None so far.
Who: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) The Buzz: Pawlenty was a short-lived presidential candidate, quitting in the summer after a third-place finish in the Iowa straw polls. He later endorsed Mitt Romney, who named him as a possible VP candidate. His Response: Pawlenty said in an interview that he'd taken himself "off the list" to be considered as Romney's VP.
Who: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) The Buzz: Portman is a supporter of Mitt Romney. In December, his home state's Dayton Daily News ran an article touting his chances to become VP: His deep resume and absence of political negatives keep him in the discussion as a vice-presidential candidate. "I would be very surprised if the eventual nominee doesn't have Rob on the short list,'' said Tony Fratto, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush. His Response: Portman is noncommittal about being on anyone's presidential ticket. "I truly am not seeking that," he said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News' Washington Bureau.
Who: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) The Buzz: Jindal, who endorsed Rick Perry, has seen his star fade since his widely panned State of the Union response in 2009. But he is still viewed as a potential pick. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) praised him, saying, "He's well-liked. He's a nice person to deal with. He clearly cares about people. He's willing to make tough choices," Scott said. "So I think he would make a great vice president." His Response: "I don't want a job from Governor Perry," Jindal said after endorsing the former candidate. "I want Governor Perry to create millions of jobs for my fellow Americans."
Who: Sen. Jon Thune (R-S.D.) The Buzz: Thune, once viewed as a potential 2012 candidate himself, has since endorsed Mitt Romney. His Response: Thune has said he's not interested in the VP role, but he wouldn't rule anything out.
Who: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) The Buzz: Ayotte was an early supporter of Mitt Romney. He gave her an endorsement of his own, naming her as a possible pick for vice president. Her Response: Ayotte said she was "surprised" by Romney's comment, but that "certainly it was an honor to be mentioned." "I am very committed to representing New Hampshire," she told the New Hampshire Union Leader. "It is such a privilege to serve New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate."
Who: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) The Buzz: Brownback endorsed Rick Perry for president, prompting speculation that he could be looking for a spot as vice president. Brownback also briefly ran for president in 2008. His Response: During the last election cycle, Brownback said he'd be "honored" to serve as John McCain's vice president. He hasn't yet commented this time around.
Who: Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) The Buzz: West has been named as a strong contender by a number of his peers, including Herman Cain, who called him an "excellent choice", and Nikki Haley, who said he would make a "good" pick. His Response: "Yes, well, right now, you know, the focus is, of course, being a good congressional representative," West told CNN's Kyra Phillips. "But if someone were to make that call to me, which I really doubt is ever going to happen, you would have to make sure that it is something that god would ordain for you, and you'd have to talk to your wife, my wife and my two daughters about. But we have always stepped up to the plate to serve our country. And if it's the right fit, then I will do so."