Hours before the Republicans begin the first-in-the-nation voting for their 2012 presidential nominee, many in the GOP brain trust are already looking to potential vice presidential candidates to help push the expected winner, Mitt Romney, over the finish line in November.
A Washington Whispers survey of top GOP strategists finds that two surrogates for Romney and the Senate's most famous Hispanic top a long list of vice presidential picks Romney should consider if he wins the GOP nomination as expected.
While over a dozen names were suggested by the strategists, some with the campaigns, four top the list: South Dakota Sen. John Thune and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both surrogates for Romney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most talked-about Hispanic in Washington, and former Secretary of State Condi Rice.
Others receiving multiple votes were Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"Romney is likely to have to go right," said one former Bush aide. "He'll need somebody to generate enthusiasm from the base. Rubio fits the bill."
Some suggested that while most of the top picks appear easy and safe candidates, it is not out of the question that Romney would choose a surprise. The reason: Romney himself is the safest of the GOP candidates and might need some spice to rev up the Republican base. But it won't be Sarah Palin. Not one of our experts mentioned her, though former McCain adviser and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina got a vote.
Of special concern is how Romney can woo southerners, Tea Party candidates, and evangelicals. Here, the strategists said that he could try to get Rick Santorum or Texas Gov. Rick Perry to campaign for him. Others even suggested that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, candidate Ron Paul's son, be enlisted.
And some said that Romney should consider breaking with tradition and choosing his running mate well before the Republican National Convention set for August 27-30 in Tampa, Fla. "No matter what, I think that Romney has to pick as soon as possible, hopefully before June," said one strategist.
Below is the list of most-favored Romney running mates from the strategists Whispers polled.
Those receiving one vote: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former California Senate candidate and ex-Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.