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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 “veepstakes” have hit Capitol Hill, and staffers to the top-tier contenders for the GOP nominee’s vice presidential nod are working to promote and protect their bosses during the selection process.

With former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney solidifying his frontrunner status for the presidential nod, about a half-dozen Members who have been mentioned as potential running mates are playing coy, as are their staffs. But aides and supporters of those believed to be on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s short list acknowledged in interviews with Roll Call that they are preparing to deal with months of speculation. Republican sources expect staff to advocate quietly for their boss — both to GOP insiders and the media, in some cases planting stories as a way of self-vetting.  

“I think it could get competitive among the staffs,” said a Republican strategist who is unaffiliated with the contenders. “The Members themselves know it would be bad form to engage in over-positioning. But staffs are definitely aware of what each Member is doing. ... There is jockeying — no question about it.”

Members of Congress at this point make up a high percentage of those considered among the top choices Romney might consider for his vice presidential nominee, but a handful of governors also are on that list. Leading the list of Capitol Hill players is freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who some GOP insiders believe is a lock for the job if he wants it and can survive the vetting process.

Also receiving top-tier mention are House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), who campaigned with Romney in the Badger State leading up to the April 3 primary; Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who considered running for president this year; and freshman Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a veteran of the House and the George W. Bush administration. Additional names garnering attention include freshman Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

No one connected to the vice presidential prospects acknowledged having a plan to promote their boss for vice president, saying either that the Member doesn’t want the job or suggesting that they realize it would do more harm than good. These operatives also said that no staff-driven rivalries have emerged.

But GOP operatives said they will be aggressive in protecting Members they advise from inaccurate stories about their record and viability on a national ticket. These operatives said their aim is to shoot down any narrative that suggests a prospective vice presidential nominee was passed over because of information discovered during the vetting process.

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