WASHINGTON -- In London, where they're busy betting on the Olympics, you also can get 11-8 odds on Tim Pawlenty as Mitt Romney's vice presidential choice. The odds are 2-1 on Sen. Rob Portman and 7-1 on Sen. Marco Rubio. If you've got English pounds to waste, you can get 100-1 on Rep. Michele Bachmann or former Gov. Sarah Palin.
On this side of the pond, Intrade "investors" have made Portman the favorite, assessing the Ohio senator's chance of getting the Romney veep nod at 30.9 percent, followed by Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota and sleep-inducing presidential contender, at 25.7 percent. Rubio of Florida sits at 9 percent.
But right now, the odds maker who counts is a 55-year-old lawyer from suburban Boston named Beth Myers. Trained in law at Southern Methodist University and a powerful Texas law firm -- and schooled in hand-to-hand political combat by Republican puppet master Karl Rove -- Myers ran Romney's 2008 presidential campaign and months ago was detailed to oversee the campaign's highly secretive vice presidential selection process.
Only two people know fully whom and what she has been examining. She is one of them. Mitt Romney is the other.
And the main question they are asking each other (and will soon ask others in the inner circle) is not who will help them the most, but who presents the least risk?
As game-changing campaign forces -- a home run in the late innings -- vice presidential picks are vastly overrated. They can occasionally provide complementary mood music or a percentage point or two in their state, though rarely enough to bring unexpected victory there.
More generally, they are remembered as campaign risks: Thomas Eagleton, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney (in 2004), Joe Lieberman, Palin. Former Sen. John Edwards was unique -- a retroactive embarrassment.
Knowing this history and knowing their candidate, and believing that the bleak economy makes it their campaign to lose, Romney's team are likely to take a political Hippocratic oath: Do no harm.
The process is reaching a crescendo now, with an announcement expected soon. This past Friday, as a tease and perhaps a distraction, Myers sent an #ff tweet that listed the names of 13 possible choices, at least one of whom, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, must have been included for entertainment purposes.
Myers has been mum on the process, other than to say a while ago that it would be meticulous and thorough. In that, she would follow her boss. Romney is said never to have seen a spreadsheet or a complex business report that he didn't want to read.
Myers' brief comment also was implicitly criticizing the process of four years ago, when Romney was on the receiving end of what turned out to be Sen. John McCain's hurried, unvetted and ultimately troubling choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
So what are Romney and Myers looking for? Recent presidential campaign history, combined with a sense of the sentiment in the campaign's Boston headquarters, points in one direction: safety.
It's easy enough to see the upsides of the main contenders. Portman, for example, has experience in government and hails from what is arguably this year's most pivotal state, Ohio. Pawlenty has Midwestern working-class roots and won the I-Love-Mitt fawn-a-thon by getting out of the nomination race before it began. Another relatively risk-free possibility is Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who has spent more than a decade in Congress (a drawback) but has been a cypher there (a virtue).
Others have their obvious appeal: Rubio, a Cuban-American, could attract Hispanic voters. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana would be the first South Asian on a national ticket. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is beloved by the new, obstreperous Tea Party base of the party.
But attorney Myers is less interested in the theoretical upside than the actual downside. She wants to know -- and probably does know -- whatever it is that Democratic opposition researchers want to know -- and probably do know -- about the GOP veep choices.
McCain's fiasco was only the latest example of what happens when you take a chance on the unknown. Palin, a theatrical hit at the convention in St. Paul, Minn., fizzled as a force by Election Day.
The searing example before that was in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush was talked into picking a young, untested and unknown Indiana senator named Dan Quayle. Since no one really knew him, including people in the Bush campaign, the media and Democrats filled in the blanks at will.
"It was like throwing a hot dog in a shark tank," recalled Roger Ailes, the Fox News boss who was Bush's media adviser at the time.
The sharks are even more ferocious than they were a generation ago, and thanks to the growth of the Internet and social media they are far more numerous.
So who would or wouldn't get eaten alive?
A Huffington Post review of the risks of leading GOP veep contenders demonstrates why Portman and Pawlenty top the betting odds -- and why they are thought to be on the Mitt-Myers short list. Neither is known for drama or scandal. Both are solidly conservative without being Tea Party confrontationalists. Both are colorless, odorless and tasteless enough to make Romney look charismatic by comparison.
On the other end of the spectrum (not counting Newt) is Rubio. If half the questions that have arisen about his personal and political finances turned out to be valid, Rubio wouldn't be a hot dog in the shark tank; he'd be the whole hog.
One theory has him penciled in for keynote speaker in Tampa instead.
Melissa Bendixen and Erin Mershon contributed reporting.
See the slide show for an "oppo" summary on GOP veep contenders.
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