Condi Rice near top of Romney VP list: Report

WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney's campaign team stoked speculation Thursday about who his vice presidential candidate will be as one report said Condoleezza Rice was a surprise name near the top of his list.

"Sometime soon, Mitt will be announcing his choice for VP," said a statement from the Republican presidential hopeful's camp, asking for US$3 (S$3.81) donations "for the chance to meet Mitt and his choice for VP in person."

A long list of possibles includes leading names like Rob Portman and Paul Ryan, but The Drudge Report, known to have good sources in the Republican camp, said it had been told that Rice was now a top contender.

"Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, 'Meet The VP' - just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal," the report said.

"And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!"

Rice, who was former president George W. Bush's secretary of state, has been frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Romney, and is someone who could lend foreign policy heft to the ticket.

As an African-American woman, she is seen as having the potential to blunt the advantages which President Barack Obama has in two important demographics.

Rice would still be considered a surprise choice as she carries a lot of baggage from the still unpopular Bush era, not least her leading role as an architect of the Iraq war.

She has also repeatedly said that she is not interested in being Romney's running mate and is enjoying being on the faculty as a professor at Stanford University in California.

Drudge said that it was her performance at Romney's Utah retreat a few weeks ago, when she received two standing ovations for her "extended argument for American leadership in the world," that made her a serious contender.

"Everyone left with her name on their lips," said the report, which contained no quotes and gave no sources.

Portman, a senator from the battleground state of Ohio, and Ryan, a rising star in the Republican party who chairs the House budget committee, have up until now been considered two of the frontrunners.

Other names include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Romney has said he will announce its decision before the Aug 27-30 Republican convention in Tampa Bay, Florida, where he will be officially crowned the nominee to take on Obama in the Nov 6 election.

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