DAYTON, Ohio - While a national television audience settles in to watch Senator Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight, Senator John McCain plans to arrive in this crucial swing state in preparation for unveiling his running mate.
The announcement is expected to be made officially tomorrow morning at a Dayton rally, followed by events over the weekend in two other swing states, Pennsylvania and Missouri, on the way to the Republican convention in St. Paul, which starts Monday.
The McCain campaign hopes to keep the pick a secret until the announcement, having watched how Democrat Obama's effort to unveil his pick by text message to supporters was scooped by leaks to the media last week.
The McCain campaign last night declined to comment on a report in The New York Times that McCain has settled on his choice. The newspaper did not say who McCain had chosen, reporting the name is known only to his small inner circle of advisers who have refused to discuss the matter. And McCain, who was ensconced at his Arizona retreat, told the Dayton Daily News yesterday that he has not decided.
Former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who Republicans say is among those being considered, said this week that he had never talked to McCain about the job. Last night, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom declined to respond directly when asked whether Romney has been notified of a decision, referring questions to the McCain campaign.
Romney's schedule leaves open the possibility that he could appear with McCain in Ohio tomorrow. After making the rounds Tuesday outside the Democratic convention in Denver to promote McCain and attack Obama, Romney spent yesterday in Nevada and is slated to be at private events today in California.
McCain also is believed to be looking at Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The McCain campaign has left open the possibility that another candidate might also be under consideration.
Romney and Pawlenty yesterday batted away questions about their vice presidential prospects. Pawlenty, appearing at the Minnesota State Fair, joked that he was "going to be vice president . . . of my fantasy football league."
Romney said that McCain can carry Utah - home to many fellow Mormons and where he led the successful 2002 Winter Olympics - without him. But Romney could help McCain carry the battleground state of Michigan, where his father, George, was a popular governor. And with his business background, he could help McCain on economic issues, where polls show Obama has an edge in voters' confidence.
A Republican strategist who advises Romney said yesterday that all of the top prospects believe they won't be picked - which he said is a testament to the McCain campaign's effort to keep the decision a secret.
The strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the selection process, said many Republicans would be unhappy if the pick were Lieberman, the self-described "independent Democrat" who has endorsed McCain but is anathema to some Republicans because of his support of abortion rights. Ridge also favors abortion rights, but he remains in the mix because of his close friendship with McCain, a fellow Vietnam War veteran.
The survey also found that 20 percent of voters, regardless of party affiliation, would be more likely to back McCain if he picks Romney, the highest percentage of six prospects mentioned in the survey. But 16 percent said the choice of Romney would make them less likely to back McCain.
Michael Kranish can be reached at email@example.com.