Top 10 GOP 2016 contenders

With the 2012 presidential election firmly in the rear-view mirror, it is not too soon to start looking four years hence, when Republicans will have another chance to make their case to the American people. Here, then, is an early attempt to handicap the list of likely standard-bearers for the GOP and the odds that they will gain the nomination.

1. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: 7-1

Ryan acquitted himself well in his vice presidential quest, bringing a much-needed seriousness to the campaign, even while debating the bizarrely behaving Joe Biden. Ryan will start the next campaign as a tenuous front-runner but will have to become an effective House leader on budget and entitlement issues in order to forestall other attractive candidates.

2. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 8-1

Another four years in the Senate will give Rubio the needed seasoning to make a serious bid for the presidency, and he is already making trips to Iowa to gather support in the critical state. Rubio is a tea party favorite who can increase Hispanic support for the GOP with his innovative thinking on immigration and his inspiring story as the son of a Cuban immigrant realizing the American Dream.

3. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: 11-1

For a 41-year-old, Bobby Jindal has a wealth of experience in government. At age 24 Jindal ran Louisiana???s Department of Health, and at age 28 he was named president of the University of Louisiana Health System. He later was assistant secretary of Health and Human Services and two terms in Congress. Just elected to a second term as Louisiana governor with 66 percent of the vote, Jindal gained kudos for his response to Hurricane Gustav in 2008, when 2 million people were evacuated.

4. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: 15-1

Palin may ultimately decide she is having more fun and wielding more influence with her various family project and her support for conservative candidates than she would by subjecting herself and her family again to the harsh media glare. Still, if she decides to run, she will be a force to be reckoned with.

5. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: 16-1

Jeb can tout support from establishment Republicans, and has a money-raising apparatus close at hand, but he will be burdened by his last name as Obama proved that running against his brother was a successful strategy. Still, Bush had an effective record as governor of Florida and is more consistently conservative than either of his presidential kin.

6. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 18-1

Paul will inherit his father???s group of rabid libertarian supporters, a proven force of activists and contributors. Like Ron Paul, he is likely to make waves while pushing the cause of smaller government and free markets. But look for him to gain more votes than his father, given that his packaging is much more attractive than the cranky-old-man look of his dad and the country likely will be even more receptive to his message after four more years of the Obama agenda.

7. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: 20-1

McDonnell has a year to go in his first term as governor of Virginia after crushing state Sen. Creigh Deeds by a 17-point margin in 2009 to succeed Tim Kaine. McDonnell has had a solid-tenure as governor, pushing for offshore drilling, privatizing state liquor stores and balancing the budget, as the state has avoided much of the economic distress seen in other parts of the country. The former state attorney general also is a solid conservative on social issues.

8. Former PA Sen. Rick Santorum: 25-1

Santorum will have the advantage over many on this list by already having traveled the primary season. He will have support from religious conservatives although Palin would challenge him for those voters if she decides to enter the race. It remains unclear if his campaign surge that ultimately fell short was a precursor of future success or happened merely because he was the last solid conservative left standing to face Mitt Romney.

9. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 30-1

Christie would have ranked much higher on today???s list if not for his slobbering all over President Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. His actions are seen by many conservatives as giving Obama a much-needed boost while blunting Mitt Romney???s momentum in the critical last week before the election. While many conservatives are likely to hold a grudge against him, his poll numbers are up and in a splintered GOP field he could carve out enough support among the party???s moderate wing. Time, of course, will be Gov. Christie???s best friend as he takes new opportunities to make a good impression.

10. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence: 35-1

Pence stepped out of the national limelight during the 2012 election cycle, winning the Indiana governor???s race after a serving a decade in Washington as a congressman, including a stint in the House Republican leadership. Adding executive experience to his legislative resume makes Pence an early dark horse who could surprise the field.