GOP convention speaker list fuels VP speculation

At last, a clue.

The rollout of headline speakers for the Republican convention offers the first bona-fide signals from the Romney campaign over who's on the short-short list to be his running mate.

It's probably safe to say that the seven major speakers announced overnight will not be Romney's vice presidential pick. Those speakers are: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Now, speculation can focus on who's conspicuously absent from that list as the Republican presidential candidate prepares to unveil his nominee likely before the Tampa convention, to be held Aug. 27-30.

Those not on the list, and presumably in the running for running mate, include: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

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The Republicans have not yet announced their convention keynote speaker, which could easily come from that list as well.

But the Romney campaign has been assiduously building anticipation for its VP rollout, even releasing a mobile phone app last week that promises to alert subscribers to his selection "before the press."

Of the seven convention speakers announced overnight, Rice probably had the most VP buzz surrounding her -- though she had said she wasn't interested.

The speaker list, though, does more than offer clues as to who's left in the VP running. They signal where Romney is looking to make progress as voters start to pay attention to the fall campaign.

The all-important female vote clearly is a priority -- evidenced by the choices of Haley, Martinez and Rice. Polls through the spring showed President Obama outpacing Romney among female voters, although strategists from both parties say that gender gap is narrowing. A strong play for female voters at the convention should be expected.

Haley, who backed Romney in her state's first-in-the-South primary, is the youngest sitting governor in the country and her husband will deploy to Afghanistan next year. So she will probably have a strong message for military families, as well as for younger voters.

Martinez, who made history in her state and nationally when she was elected, could appeal to Hispanic women, a sizable demographic that broke for Obama four years ago. She can also address voters who feel securing the nation's Southern border is a top concern.

Rice, an academic who was President George W. Bush's national security adviser and later secretary of state, could appeal to working women and those who put the United States' security as a top concern.

Some suggested she would be an excellent choice for Romney's running mate, but conservatives in the party led a revolt, citing her support for abortion rights.

Romney, with limited foreign policy credentials, needs leading foreign policy figures like Rice to vouch for him. Another prominent voice on foreign policy, McCain, will speak up for Romney.

The Senate veteran, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam, remains among his party's most visible figures. His dislike for Romney has apparently faded since their primary fight four years ago.

"They are some of our party's brightest stars, who have governed and led effectively and admirably in their respective roles," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said. "These speakers -- and those that will be announced later -- will help make it a truly memorable and momentous event."

Among Tea Party supporters, Romney will get a boost from Kasich. His home state of Ohio is a linchpin of Romney's strategy and no Republican has won the White House without carrying the perennial Midwestern battleground. No Democrat has won without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960.

Florida is another key state for both campaigns' path to the White House. Florida's Gov. Scott will address the convention, customary when the incumbent governor's party hosts the convention.

Democrats have rolled out their own convention schedule in recent weeks. Marking a first for Hispanics, the Democrats chose the mayor of San Antonio to deliver the keynote address in Charlotte, N.C.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver the high-profile, prime-time address on the convention's opening night, Sept. 4. First lady Michelle Obama will also address convention delegates that night.

Democrats also announced that former President Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, the party's popular Senate candidate in Massachusetts, will have prime speaking roles at the convention on Sept. 5.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.