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Capitol Hill Turns to Speculation on GOP Vice Presidential Nominee

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House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (right) is seen as a strong contender to join presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as his running mate.

“The biggest things we’re focused on is ensuring that incorrect perceptions that some might have don’t set in as conventional wisdom,” said one GOP operative who advises a lawmaker who is oft-mentioned as a potential running mate. “Our concern is the next Senate election, not the next six months. ... This has nothing do with the VP speculation.”

No Republican with direct knowledge of the Members involved would speak on the record, citing the sensitivity of the topic.

Romney still has not won the 1,144 Republican convention delegates required to seal up the nomination and force former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) from the race. But following a sweep of primaries last Tuesday in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin, Romney has solidified his status as the presumptive GOP nominee.

Not all Member staffs are considered equally politically savvy and prepared to handle the glare of the national media spotlight should their boss remain in contention for the No. 2 spot into the summer. One way to gauge Ryan’s interest in being selected — and perhaps Romney’s interest — could be whether the Congressman hires more experienced political advisers. One Republican insider described Ryan’s staff as “not political at all.”

“Ryan’s real dream is to be Ways and Means chairman,” one GOP operative said. “That being said, we all know he’ll be on any short list, and if it goes further, he would definitely have to add to his team. [But] that’s not unusual.”

Conversely, Rubio’s national ambitions are well-known, and his team of staff and advisers includes Republican operatives with presidential campaign experience. Many of them have been with the Senator since his 2010 campaign, if not soon after he assumed office in January of last year. Press aide Alex Conant joined Rubio’s Senate office after serving on former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. Sally Canfield, Rubio’s chief policy adviser and among his first Senate hires, counseled Romney during his 2008 presidential bid.

Although Republican operatives off Capitol Hill believe staff rivalries could emerge as aides connected to Members on Romney’s potential short list angle to favorably position their boss, most GOP Hill staffers downplayed that possibility. While Republican aides generally expect some promotion of the Members under discussion by staff to occur, they don’t expect it to be overt enough to make a newsworthy spectacle.

“I’ve seen none of that at this point. I’d be surprised if it happened. I just think it would be a really stupid thing to do,” one aide said. “It’s the last thing Boston wants to see. ... They’re looking for team players.”

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