Rand Paul’s youth appeal. Scott Walker’s battle scars. Chris Christie’s swagger.

It’s enough to make a 2014 campaign manager’s mouth water.

The next presidential election is two years away, but Republicans running for office this cycle already have an array of surrogate options when it comes to potential 2016 contenders.

To find out who tops their wish lists, POLITICO put the question in recent weeks to more than 25 GOP campaign managers, strategists and aides in competitive races across the country. Though it was not a scientific survey, their responses offered clues about which potential presidential hopefuls have the most cachet with down-ballot Republicans right now — and why.

Operatives mentioned Paul more than any other prospective 2016 candidate. Christie followed — despite the fallout from the so-called Bridgegate traffic scandal — thanks largely to his continued fundraising prowess.

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