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The long road to the conclave is well under way. But who wants to wait until then? The campaigning and quizzing about who should be the next Pope is already going on, behind the scenes, in "phone conversations" and "e-mails." How very 21st Century of the Catholic church. The New York Times reports this morning that the back room campaigning has already begun among the cardinals aiming to win the role at the head of the Catholic church.

They're chatting, gossiping, e-mailing and phoning each other to try and figure who's likeable enough, or whose views are strident enough to keep the church on the straight and narrow. More than anything, the impressions they're already set among their peers will play into how their chances for the papacy play out. But other things will factor in, too. Italians are almost always heavy favorites. Like the ongoing saga of Chuck Hagel's Defense Secretary confirmation, previous speeches will factor into the decision making process. So, too, will newer things: like how well versed a candidate is in social media. 

But openly advocating for yourself is frowned upon. Things must be done privately, or through intermediaries. One potential candidate apparently already shot himself in the foot. Peter Turkson gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph where you can imagine he's speaking as if he was already chosen as Benedict's successor. That was apparently a fatal mistake for this chances. 

The cardinals aren't set to enter the conclave until March 15, but even that date isn't concrete. The church may expedite the process and start the proceedings early to try and have a new Pope by Easter weekend. 

There are already some favorites emerging from the pack, too. So we've made a little cheat sheet of the ones highlighted by the Times so you'll know the names, at least, of candidates for when your friends go to start your conclave pool. 

Name: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Origin: Manilla

Best Thing Going For Him: Impressed when he advocated the church should admit its mistakes.

Number of Twitter Followers: 736

Name: Timothy M. Dolan

Origin: New York, USA

Best Thing Going For Him: Dolan "delivered a winning address on evangelization to the College of Cardinals." 

Number of Twitter Followers: 80,366

Name: Marc Ouellet

Origin: Quebec, Canada 

Best Thing Going For Him: Is a gracious host when cardinals visit the Vatican, but can be a little boring when giving speeches. 

Number of Twitter Followers: Does not have a Twitter account. (Tsk. Tsk.)

Name: Gianfranco Ravasi

Origin: Italy

Best Thing Going For Him: Ravasi is an early favorite. He's scheduled to preach a weeklong meeting of the cardinals before they enter the conclave and begin official deliberations, which gives him a huge platform to shine. He's also well-liked and has given "energizing" speeches across Europe where the church is starting to lose some influence. But he also has a reputation as a showboat and a spotlight chaser. 

Number of Twitter Followers: 35,729 in Italian; 622 in English

Name: Angelo Scola

Origin: Italy

Best Thing Going For Him: Considered a solid candidate. He's the archbishop of Milan and "a theologian who has often addressed the challenges of secularism and Islam in Europe." 

Number of Twitter Followers: 16,987


Name: Angelo Bagnasco

Origin: Italy

Best Thing Going For Him: Also considered a solid candidate, if only for his high-ranking position in the Italian wing of the church. He's the president of the Italian bishops conference. 

Number of Twitter Followers: Does not have a Twitter account. Does have his own dedicated Google Chrome gadget to track mentions of him on Twitter, though. 

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