With Mitt Romney leading the delegate race and the rapid coalescing of conservatives around him – Jeb Bush, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan with formal endorsements, and Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey with quasi-endorsements – there is increasing speculation about who the former Massachusetts Governor would pick as a running mate if he wins the Republican nomination.

I talked about this with Romney last week:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: “I listened to your interview this morning with Charlie Sykes. You told him that if you won the nomination you’d have a long list of potential running mates that would include Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. Do you have someone who’s in charge of the vetting process?”

Mitt Romney: “I do not. And if I said that it’s not exactly what I meant to say. I meant to say anybody would have a long list.”

TWS: “That may be what you said. I may be mischaracterizing it.”

Romney: “I don’t have a list at this stage. I haven’t put together a list. I haven’t done any thinking about a VP contender at this point. I would anticipate that whoever our nominee is would start with a very long list because frankly we have quite a group of people who have the skill and the credibility to be viable members of a national ticket. So he asked me about a couple of names but there are – I don’t have to tell you this – there’s a long list of very capable folks, including people who’ve run this cycle.”

TWS: “Would anyone on that list be pro-choice?”

Romney: “No.”

Romney’s last point rules out (very, very) long shots like Rudy Giuliani and perennial mention Tom Ridge. But it would also eliminate Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who has been the subject of some recent running mate chatter.

An article in BuzzFeed Thursday speculates that Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, who is Hispanic and was vetted by the FBI before taking a seat on the federal bench after his appointment by George W. Bush, would be a possibility. “With Eyes on Rubio, Signs that Sandoval Is In the Veepstakes: Senior Republicans are floating the Latino Governor of Nevada as a potential running mate. Like Rubio without the baggage.”

Leaving aside the highly debatable claim that Rubio has “baggage,” Romney’s comments to me last week would seem to rule out Sandoval, who is pro-choice. (Romney said something similar during a presidential forum in South Carolina last September. Speaking of abortion, he declared: “This is an important enough issue that the person I would [have] selected in that position would share my views.” The answer comes at 14:20 of this video.)

So what about Rubio? In an interview with National Review’s Jim Geraghty, Rubio says, “[I]t’s not going to happen. My position on that issue hasn’t changed.”

Geraghty asked Rubio if he’s not expecting to be asked or if he’d turn it down if he was asked. “When you say it’s not going to happen and you’re not interested, they’re not going to ask. You don’t ask somebody to be your vice president who has already said they’re not interested. It doesn’t work that way, as you well know. There’s a process to selecting a vice president. It’s not like asking someone to go to the prom. This is a very significant decision that involves a lengthy process. If you’re not involved in that process because you’ve made it clear you’re not interested, you’re not going to be asked.”

That’s not true, of course. The man who holds the job now, Joe Biden, told school children earlier this week that he turned down the offer before accepting it. And Dick Cheney turned it down not just once but three separate times before he told George W. Bush that he would serve as his running mate.

In all likelihood, there will come a time, assuming Romney wins the nomination, when he will begin to take seriously the question of whom he will add to the ticket. People on the “long list” that is surely floating around in Romney’s head, if not somewhere around Boston headquarters, will be asked to provide reams of paperwork detailing virtually every aspect of their professional and personal lives. Romney, who campaigned with Rubio in 2010 and has called him a “leading light of the Republican Party,” would be foolish not to include him.

Another possibility: Paul Ryan, who endorsed Romney on Friday. (See Fred Barnes from last week on that possible pairing.)

Ryan said last week that he was open to an offer from Romney. “I would have to consider it,” Ryan told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “But it’s not something I’m even thinking about because I think our job in Congress is pretty important.”

It was a classic Ryan response. “I’m not going to lie to people,” he says. “I can’t do that.” Even when he was considering a run of his own, he had a hard time trying to convince people otherwise. When I asked him Friday about his openness to the job, Ryan told me he’s a detailed, methodical thinker and said he hadn’t given nearly as much thought to joining the GOP ticket as he had to running himself. “You forced me to move up my decision on this race,” he said, referring to reporting last August that Ryan was seriously considering a bid. “I’d planned a two-week decision making process. I had a timeline, a pro-con thought sheet, I was talking to my family and people close to me – all that got moved up.” And when he ultimately decided to pass on a run of his own, he ended a period of examination that had lasted, at some levels, for several months.

Thus far, he hasn’t devoted any significant time to thinking about a possible Romney-Ryan ticket. I honestly have not given this any serious thought and I’ve been just really focused on the budget. If they tell me to think about it, I’ll think about it.”

Ryan says he endorsed Romney because in their personal interactions, he became convinced that Romney isn’t satisfied just being an alternative to Barack Obama in the fall. “He’s willing to take the political risk involved in giving the country two very stark choices,” Ryan says. “He’s endorsed what we’re trying to do in the budget framework. He’s put out specifics on taxes, Social Security, Medicare.”

Ryan believes Republicans will have to move quickly in January 2013 if they control the House, Senate, and White House. “When you talk to him about what needs to be done, he’s ready to do it. I walked him through – here’s what 2013 is going to have to look like if we’re going to avoid a debt crisis. I told him we’d have to really move. His comment to me is we’re going to have to do it in the first 100 days.”

Those promises will no doubt reassure some conservative skeptics of Romney. Picking a movement conservative as his running mate would reassure many more.

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