10 coveted endorsements for Republicans running for president

While endorsements have begun to trickle in for Republican presidential candidates as they battle for standing in the race for the 2012 nomination, no game-changing endorsements haven't been landed yet.

The Hill put together a list with some of the endorsements the presidential candidates covet most, listed below in no particular order.

Chris Christie

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There's no doubting the importance of a figure like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) right now in the Republican Party. He's refused the numerous exhortations from conservative activists to enter the race for the GOP nomination, meaning his support could be even more valuable to a candidate in the race. His legislative victory this week over public employee unions only serves to build his profile.

Christie told the Washington Post this week that "nobody yet has stood out that I’d like to get behind," but that hasn't stopped the contenders from courting him. Virtually all the candidates and possible candidates have met with Christie and have lavished praise on him. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) cozied up to him in a Friday tweet praising the New Jersey pension reforms.

Nikki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is another rising conservative star. Unlike Christie, she has the advantage of governing a state that hosts one of the earliest and most influential contests of the primary cycle.

The first-term governor was propelled to victory in part by a key endorsement by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) during the 2010 primary, but has said she doesn't feel as though she "owes" Palin so much as to return the favor if Palin runs for president.

As for the other candidates? They haven't impressed Haley much, either. She scolded the field of candidates to focus less time complaining about President Obama, and spend more time explaining how they would be different.

Ovide LaMontagne

Like Haley, Ovide LaMontagne has the potential to shape the race with an endorsement in a key early primary state.

A longtime figure in Republican politics in New Hampshire, LaMontagne only saw his profile grow after falling short in his bid last year for the GOP Senate nomination. Since then, he's hosted a series of house parties for a number of presidential contenders, and most of them have shown up.

Unlike some of the other figures on this list, LaMontagne's made clear that he'll probably make an endorsement -- likely sometime this fall.

"My intention is to get involved in this primary," he said in a conference call earlier this month. "To the extent I can help weigh in on the election process in New Hampshire ... I want to be part of that process."

Sarah Palin

As always, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's intentions in 2012 are unknown to all but a few members of her political inner circle and her family.

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But if Palin opts against running, her endorsement could be one that offers a seismic shift in the race for the Republican nomination.

If nothing else, the primary elections in 2010 proved the influence of Palin's endorsement in primaries. She backed ultimately successful candidates like Haley, but also propelled unlikely (and untested candidates) like Christine O'Donnell to the forefront with her endorsements. If nothing else, Palin's supporters are intensely loyal, and their votes could seismically shift the primary race.

Palin's influence is one of the reasons that candidates already in the race have pulled their punches with Palin -- they wouldn't risk her ire, and would love to have her support.

"I think Governor Palin is a remarkable leader. I think she's qualified to be president of the United States," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said at the Republican debate earlier this month. "I think she's equally as qualified or more qualified, and would have been as strong of a president as Joe Biden. He's wrong on everything."

Jim DeMint

Like Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint's a conservative rock star who's shown a penchant for shaking up the GOP establishment with his endorsements. And like Haley, he could boost a candidate in South Carolina, a key primary contest.

DeMint was active in last year's Senate races, using his Senate Conservatives Fund to back a number of insurgent conservative candidates, sometimes at the expense of more establishment candidates that had been recruited from Washington.

The Palmetto State conservative could be a kingmaker again in 2012, and he's already laying out his criteria. DeMint has demanded that Republican presidential candidates sign the new "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge or risk losing his support.

"It's a dealbreaker," said DeMint, who backed Romney in 2008, of candidates who refuse to sign.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush would offer an eventual Republican nominee not only a boost in Florida, where he served two terms as governor, but the imprimatur of the Bush family, which has produced two presidents in the last quarter-century.

Bush had always enjoyed popularity among Republicans who'd hoped that he might run for the party's nomination. But his last name and the political tarnish of his brother, former President George W. Bush (who's said he won't endorse), make it difficult for Jeb Bush to run.

Still, his feelings toward the current crop of candidates has been closely monitored. His tweet the day Pawlenty launched his campaign is evidence: "I admire truth telling and T-Paw sure did it to open his campaign," he wrote.

Vander Plaats

Like LaMontagne, Bob Vander Plaats is a failed statewide Republican candidate, but one who's only seen his influence grow as a conservative leader in Iowa, home to the caucuses and the cycle's first nominating contest.

Vander Plaats is in a position to shape the race in his capacity as president of The Family Leader, a socially conservative group in a state where churchgoing voters are a major factor in the caucuses.

Like LaMontagne, Vander Plaats has established a presidential lecture series where candidates can showcase their platform and make their pitch to Iowa voters. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was the first speaker in the series, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) is scheduled to deliver his lecture on July 11.

Dobson/Warren/Land

While the coming election appears set to focus on economic issues more than social issues, three evangelical leaders' could influence the debate, through endorsements or from the pulpit.

James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, had refused to endorse Sen. John McCain's campaign in 2008 before eventually relenting and backing him over Obama. He's still an influential social conservative voice, and his endorsement could carry more weight this time around.

Rick Warren, the author of "A Purpose-Driven Life," isn't particularly known for a close relationship with Republicans; he delivered the invocation at Obama's inauguration. But he's been historically magnanimous toward Republicans, and could provide a boost, if not an outright endorsement, to a candidate fitting his vision of compassionate conservatism.

Richard Land is an influential evangelical figure who enjoyed close ties to the Bush administration. He's been a consistent cheerleader for Republican efforts, and if he endorses, a candidate stands to benefit.

Paul Ryan

Perhaps nobody's been more praised and vilified this year than Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of House Republicans' 2012 budget, including its proposed reforms to Medicare.

Virtually all the Republican presidential candidates have heaped praise on the budget guru, and the one who didn't -- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- quickly reversed course. After Gingrich referred to the Ryan plan as "right-wing social engineering," Ryan threw an elbow. "With allies like that, who needs the left?" he said on conservative talk radio.

The Republican contenders would love to have Ryan's support, and their support for his plan could be an indicator of just how serious the candidates are about getting his support.

FreedomWorks

FreedomWorks isn't a person, but it's a Tea Party umbrella group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). And they're poised to make a bigger impact in 2012 than ever.

The group's president, Matt Kibbe, announced that FreedomWorks would start a so-called "Super PAC" to influence the elections in 2012, and they could harness and focus Tea Party activists in untold ways in the presidential primary.

That could make life difficult for Romney, stopping whose candidacy FreedomWorks has said is its top goal in next year's Republican primaries.

Updated June 27 at 2:34 p.m.