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GOP leaders already jockeying for 2016

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 6:45 am •  Published: November 16, 2012

The Virginia governor, who is set to leave office in early 2014, is already fanning speculation about his next move. He is coming off a successful turn as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which will soon count 30 members among its ranks, and stepping up his national profile.

Another outsider, Wisconsin's Walker, tried to soften his image with a big-tent pitch that welcomed more voters. The first governor to survive a recall election, Walker said the answer lies in how leaders communicate with voters.

"I think it's not that our beliefs are wrong," said Walker, 45. "I don't think we do an effective enough job of articulating those beliefs and what it means in people's lives."

He isn't talking about a 2016 candidacy, of course, but Walker said governors' experiences are typically an advantage.

Another tough-talking figure, Christie tried to dodge headlines entirely on his trip to Las Vegas, his first outside New Jersey since Superstorm Sandy battered its coastline. Christie, 50, brushed aside questions about his political future and steadfastly refused approaches from reporters.

Instead of a public show, Christie met in private with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, one of the GOP's top strategists and a potential kingmaker in 2016.

To be sure, other would-be candidates are eyeing the next presidential race, and it's far too early to draft an exhaustive list of potential contenders. For instance, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is keeping his network of supporters in Iowa engaged. And Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has returned to his job in Congress while his allies work to make sure he doesn't preclude a presidential bid.

Such behind-the-scenes efforts are in stark contrast to Rubio, the 41-year-old, first-term senator from Florida, who is making a post-Election Day trip to Iowa this weekend. Ostensibly, the purpose of Rubio's trip is to attend Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday party.

"It's going to be a great event," Branstad said with a wide grin.

The political importance is not lost on anyone, given that Iowa hosts the first presidential caucuses.

"Come to Iowa," Branstad urged, "early and often."