) -- These are the last days when every GOP presidential hopeful still has, well, hope of being the party's nominee and the nation's next president, which also means these are the last days we can speculate on every candidate's potential vice presidential running mates before anyone drops out.

Sure, it's probably too early to be anywhere near certain who will occupy the eventual nominee's VP slot to go up against incumbent and accomplished campaigner Barack Obama, but there's no harm in having a little fun and speculating.

As one Republican political strategist said: "It's entirely dependent on who the nominee is and what the circumstances are, come August, and it has almost nothing to do with anything else. ... Would anyone have suggested Sarah Palin

in 2008?"

True, and this list isn't counting Palin out in 2012.

Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has surged in popularity among GOP leadership as the son of two Cuban exiles. Rubio,

according to his Web site, served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008 as majority whip, majority leader and then Florida House Speaker.

Rubio has been embraced by the Tea Party, which is a crucial voting block the senator could rally support moderate Mitt Romney.

Rubio is perceived as a young family man who went to a state school for college and got his law degree in his hometown at the University of Miami. This local-grown education could appeal to voters who perceive Romney's Harvard business school background as elitist.

Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) should accept an olive branch from Gingrich and let

past tensions give way to a ticket that provides significant political experience.

Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He's held office for more than 10 years and is a rising star within the Republican Party who knows how to

reach across the proverbial aisle.

Ryan's knowledge of the financial system and Gingrich's Lyndon Johnson-like understanding of Congress would make for a formidable team.

Ron Paul and Rand Paul

A Ron Paul nomination would be an incredible referendum by Republicans on their party, so Paul could complete a full, healthy transformation with a tap to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), for VP.

Rand agrees with his father on a range of issues, but he's not afraid to go against the views of the elder Paul if he has to. Rand Paul is also fairly new to the political world, and isn't covered with the same political dust his father has collected since the 1970s.

Rand is a favorite among the Tea Party, and his foreign policy views aren't identical to his father's. In fact, Rand Paul thinks that for the most part, America's foreign policy

has been bipartisan.

Rick Santorum and Dennis Miller

Santorum needs to add color to his campaign if he reaches the general election, and a wild card could be exactly what injects interest. Comedian Dennis Miller is the right guy for the job.

Miller would bring clever conservative rhetoric and witticisms on the campaign trail to woo potential voters, and he'd likely connect with independent voters who want to hear about more than social conservative issues.

His popularity would also draw attention from curious undecided constituencies, which, with a solid message of fiscal conservatism, could surprise the general electorate.

Rick Perry and Chris Christie

It's hard to imagine a more colorful pair for the presidency. A Rick Perry nomination would mean no more Romney, which would force New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's allegiance to the GOP candidate.

Perry says he connects best with voters on the ground, not over the airwaves in frivolous debates. Christie is the kind of guy who can do both, and what better Vice Presidential debate would there be than Christie and Joe Biden?

Christie is like a rock star among GOP voters, and plenty of independents don't mind a politician who isn't afraid to speak his mind.

Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin could be back in 2012 with Bachmann, but with preparation unheard of in 2008. Palin has become much more media-savvy and now knows how to deflect, dodge and devour questions that once made her look amateur.

This would be less about an all-female ticket and more about the raw work ethic of this pair. Bachmann has shown throughout her campaign that she's willing to travel with very little rest (like visiting all 99 counties in Iowa), and Palin's pitch is one that connects with a lot of grassroots supporters.

There have been rumblings that the Congresswoman and former governor have too much star power to co-exist, but it would be unwise to underestimate the appeal of two well-recognized personalities in a presidential election.

Jon Huntsman and Jeb Bush

You want to know how to beat Obama? Snatching hoards of disgruntled independent voters is a good start. And one ticket to independents' hearts would be moderate Jon Huntsman and the admired, consummate conservative former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Huntsman doesn't appeal greatly to the conservative base, as anyone can see from his standing in national GOP polls, but Bush, the brother of George W., has a conservative track record coupled with a load of bipartisan negotiation in a swing state.

A few years out of politics, Republicans and other active politicos have looked to

Bush as a voice of reason. Couple that reason with Huntsman's universal voter appeal and this duo could have a legitimate shot at beating Obama-Biden 2012.

--Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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