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Romney campaigns with Ayotte in NH amid short list speculation

PORTSMOUTH, NH -- Mitt Romney's short list of vice presidential candidates is expected to include 10 to 15 names, a source with knowledge of the deliberations said Monday as one of those potential candidates, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, joined Romney on the campaign trail this morning.

Making his first appearance in the Granite States since having assumed the role of the presumptive Republican nominee, Romney was flanked by Ayotte, a longtime ally who's now receiving new scrutiny as a possible contender for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket this fall.

A freshman senator and former New Hampshire attorney general, Ayotte, who endorsed Romney last November, toured the port here with Romney this morning, and introduced him, telling a crowd of supporters and local fisherman "help is on the way" under a Romney presidency.

The stop was sure to stoke speculation due to its spot in a series of campaign stops Romney has made with potential candidates to round out his ticket. He campaigned heavily in Wisconsin with Rep. Paul Ryan, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another vice presidential favorite, appeared with Romney last week in Pennsylvania.

"There's a whole ledger of items you check off, and Senator Ayotte is a strong candidate on the list," Former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu told reporters. "She knows how to cut budgets. She knows that you cut spending instead of raising taxes to cut budgets. She's a hard campaigner. She's earned the respect of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Washington."

Sununu, whom Romney described in his remarks as a "bulldog" for the campaign, played down the notion that today's appearance in Portsmouth constituted an audition for Ayotte. He pointed to her previous appearances and work for Romney, and the former New Hampshire governor suggested that Romney would continue to appear with GOP heavyweights in swing states.

But Sununu also raised eyebrows when he suggested that the vice presidential search committee, being led by longtime Romney aide Beth Myers, would be working with an extensive short list of prospective running mates.

"I know that the bowl has about 19 or 20 little folded pieces of paper in it, and they keep shaking the bowl," Sununu said.

A source with knowledge of the deliberations thus far called that number "a little high" and said the working list contained somewhere around ten to fifteen names instead.

Ayotte might earn her way onto that list because of her experience in law enforcement and background in the swing state of New Hampshire. Adding a woman to the ticket might help Romney to close the gap with women voters, as well.

But, even as Sununu acknowledged, Ayotte has little relative experience on the national stage -- something that could open her up to attacks on her inexperience.

But for all the speculation surrounding the second spot on the GOP ticket, the man at the top remained almost exclusively focused on the economy in his remarks today, accused the president and his campaign of engaging in "silliness" and distractions, and saying he would remain focused on "helping those that need help the most."

"I wish the president would start talking about the economy and stop trying to divert with all the silliness day in and day out," Romney said. "Let’s focus on what people care about, and the issue people care about is the one that is effecting us, which is their pocketbooks. The gasoline prices. The cost of higher education. The need for more jobs. The need for better incomes."