With the nomination for President all but clinched, the next order of business for Republicans is to find a running mate.  That’s the first big test for any nominee, although Mitt Romney has publicly stated that he hasn’t yet begun to build a list of potential partners for the general election.  According to BuzzFeed, that’s only because he’s delegated that task to former RNC chair and Bush adviser Ed Gillespie:

Just hours after Rick Santorum left the race, voters at a rally here Monday were already clamoring to find out who would join Mitt Romney on the presidential ticket.

“I’m here to announce today that I do not even have a list!” Romney replied to a supporter’s question.

But Romney does have a plan: One long-time GOP operative said Romney staffers are quietly circulating that former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who joined the campaign as a “volunteer” advisor last week, will “take the lead” on the search for a Vice President.

The search, and the vetting that accompanies it, are likely to be conducted with particular intensity because senior party operatives are still reeling from their inability to defend vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008. Party leaders expect the Romney camp better take the process seriously this time around, and everything about Romney’s own methods suggest a careful, deliberate process. But Romney’s team itself is extremely light on general election experience, and they’re turning to a cohort of old-time GOP hands in developing a strategy to win in November.

Some had apparently expected Charlie Black to run this operation, according to the article, although I’m not sure why.  Black did some work on John McCain’s campaign, and caused a stir when he asserted that a terrorist attack on the US would benefit McCain’s election chances, although to be fair, he only answered a direct question on that point from Fortune.  BuzzFeed reports that Black didn’t expect to be involved, either, saying that task usually falls to lawyers.

Gillespie would be a better choice, but one that could generate some concern among grassroots activists leery of the GOP establishment.  Gillespie certainly falls into that category, with a term as RNC chair and a few years as a key adviser to George W. Bush.  However, Gillespie ran the RNC during Bush’s 2004 re-election effort, which successfully held the White House and picked up four seats in the Senate and three in the House, retaining control of Congress.  He knows a few things about winning elections, and that’s the kind of expertise that should boost Romney’s chances in the fall.

That depends, of course, on the eventual choice for running mate.  Those who have been reluctant to get behind Romney will watch this process carefully.  They will want to see someone who excites them, while Romney will want to make sure that the eventual running mate doesn’t end up overwhelming the narrative.  Given Romney’s private-sector background, I’d expect to see him choose someone with an executive background and experience, with enough Tea Party credibility to help pull the party together at the convention.  That leaves a lot of possibilities, and it will probably take almost all summer to make the choice.  We’ll see if Romney can pass this first crucial test as nominee.

Update, 4/15/12: Gillespie told Fox News Sunday that “it was news to me” that he was heading up the VP search effort:

Veteran Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, who recently joined Mitt Romney’s campaign as a senior advisor, shot down reports that he will run Romney’s search for a running mate.

“It was news to me,” he said on Fox News Sunday, adding that “as far as I know, it is not accurate.”