DENVER -- Looking toward his turn in the spotlight, Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain sought to siphon attention from Democrat Barack Obama's show in Denver by playing coy about his pick for vice president.
McCain is widely expected to name his choice for vice president in the coming days, possibly Friday, but said in an interview aired Thursday that he still hadn't made up his mind. Far from quieting speculation, this seemed only to fuel it.
The hope in the McCain camp — with both the eventual pick and the effort to keep buzz alive beforehand — is to curb any uptick in polling that Obama might get from his convention, which wraps up Thursday, and to create momentum heading into the gathering of GOP delegates for McCain next week in St. Paul, Minn.
For months, McCain's vice presidential search has been kept closely held by a small group of his advisers. But details have increasingly trickled out this week, including word from two Republicans that McCain met with his senior advisers in Arizona on Wednesday to discuss the pick and conflicting information about whether or not he had settled on a choice. It was a strategy McCain's campaign all but certainly employed to inject McCain into news coverage dominated by Obama.
Republicans with ties to McCain's campaign said final deliberations this week were focused on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, too, was still a possibility, as was the idea that McCain would choose a dark horse from any number of names that have circulated. One of those, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, was quickly taken out of contention by a spokeswoman. Peggy Cifrino said Powell "is not interested in serving on either ticket."
Said McCain, in the interview with KDKA NewsRadio in Pittsburgh that was taped Wednesday: "I haven't decided yet so I can't tell you."
McCain, who spoke with the radio station from his home in Arizona, has told people that he would make no final decision until after he talks with his wife, Cindy. She has been in the country of Georgia this week and had been expected to return late Wednesday.
McCain and his No. 2 are expected to appear together for the first time at one or more rallies planned for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri in the run-up to the convention.
In the radio interview, McCain said that he was bringing along to the Pennsylvania event on Saturday both Ridge an Romney. But he cautioned against assuming that meant either one would be the pick.
However, McCain talked glowingly of Ridge, a longtime friend who has been a frequent presence at his side during the campaign and who, in a break from McCain, backs abortion rights. "He's a great American and a great and dear friend and I rely on him and I have for many years," McCain said.
Asked to hint which way he is leaning, McCain turned — as he has for days — to a joke, saying it would be actor Wilford Brimley. "He's a former Marine and great guy and he's older than I am, so that might work," said the four-term Arizona senator who turns 72 on Friday.
Pawlenty, in Denver to be a McCain surrogate during the Democratic convention, said during a series of TV interviews that all the speculation may be fun and interesting but is foolish.
"Most of it turns out to be inaccurate," Pawlenty told Fox News Channel. "Those are questions for the McCain campaign, and I think they are going to make their announcement shortly."
Romney, who had been in Denver to play the attack-dog role earlier in the week, was traveling throughout California on Thursday. He was meeting with his donors to encourage them to support the GOP-sponsored committee focused on electing McCain president and the California Republican Party.
Ridge was at his suburban Washington, D.C., home. Asked by an Associated Press photographer as he took out the trash if he had any travel plans for the day, Ridge smiled and said he didn't.
Lieberman was vacationing at an undisclosed location.
Inside GOP circles Thursday, speculation swirled around him. It was fueled by reports that McCain's advisers had asked for additional detailed information from Lieberman, by McCain's close friendship with the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and by word that Republican operatives had been told to prepare for the possibility of an "unconventional" choice. Lieberman supports the Iraq war but breaks with Republicans on most issues, notably abortion rights.
GOP strategist Karl Rove late last week encouraged Lieberman to withdraw his name from vice presidential consideration, but Lieberman rejected the suggestion, according to a person familiar with the phone call, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
There's been talk among Republican insiders that, should McCain choose Lieberman, he may well declare in his vice presidential speech or his nomination acceptance speech that he will serve only a single four-year term. GOP operatives say that, combined with putting Lieberman on the ticket, could reinforce McCain's claim that he would put the country above partisan politics. It also could address concerns about his age.
Conversely, a Lieberman pick would be all but certain to ignite a revolt on the GOP's right flank. Hard-core Republicans likely would question why someone who doesn't adhere to GOP orthodoxy would be a heartbeat from the presidency and the prohibitive Republican favorite going into the 2012 election. That would also raise lame-duck questions and literally touch off the 2012 race as soon as this election ends — if not sooner.
McCain himself rejected a single-term pledge as recently as last week.
"No," McCain told Politico. "I'm not considering it."
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