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Out of spotlight, Mitt Romney and other GOP hopefuls prepping for 2012

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 11:15 a.m. MST

Santorum has announced initial hires and has publicized who is supporting him in the first nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He lined up strategist Mike Biundo, tapped former Romney backer Clara Monier to coordinate New Hampshire and hired consultant and radio personality Seth Leibsohn to run his policy shop.

And this week, he will visit the three early nominating states with a packed schedule.

Jon Huntsman, Obama's ambassador to China, has a shadow campaign in place courtesy of a very enthusiastic political operative. John Weaver, a veteran of McCain's presidential campaigns, put together Horizon Political Action Committee as a campaign-in-waiting for Huntsman.

The site asks: "What Happened? To America? To politics? To our politicians?" The letter H is the PAC's logo and nowhere does it mention Huntsman. But it's clearly about him and for him.

The former Utah governor's resignation from Beijing takes effect in April and he might launch a campaign from his new Washington-area home in May. If he does, Huntsman has veterans of presidential campaigns ready to help craft his message, including veteran Hollywood-based ad maker Fred Davis.

Barbour has his circle of advisers that he built quietly during his years running the Republican Governors Association. He will be in Iowa twice this month but is not committing to a White House run until the Mississippi legislature ends its session in early April. Advisers say it could be May before he decides. He has lined up pollster Ed Goeas, who worked four years ago for Rudy Giuliani's bid, as well as Jim Dyke, a South Carolina operative who has worked on four presidential campaigns and served as the RNC's top spokesman in 2004.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin recently added a chief of staff to her political committee but her advisers cautioned not to take that as a sign the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee would run for the White House in 2012.

Gingrich, who has made early visits to key nominating states, already has lined up a handful of aides to help him start and his decades in politics have earned him loyal advisers, including spokesman Rick Tyler, adviser Joe Gaylord and attorney Randy Evans. He's also scouting for office space in Georgia, where his campaign will be based.

The level of activity — or lack of — also can indicate just how seriously potential candidates are considering running.

Consider Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He says he hasn't decided what to do, but also notes every time he talks about the speculation that he's made absolutely no moves.

"Right now, I've left the option open. I always stress this: I'm not doing anything about it. All my attention is on the job I've got, which is plenty to keep me busy," he said. Daniels is in the midst of a budget fight with state Democrats and facing the possible fallout from the indictment of the state's Republican elections chief.

Huckabee sounds a lot like Daniels. He insists he may run even though his staff from his 2008 campaign have other jobs and there's no evidence that he's actively plotting a campaign. Rather, he's focused on promoting his latest book on a nationwide tour — while stoking the presidential buzz.

"When 10 other people are already out there with a full-blown announcement, you call me and ask me if I'm too late. Right now, I'm not too late," Huckabee said. "There's no reason to for me to get in, in a hurry."

AP National Political Writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.

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