WASHINGTON Sen. John McCain has decided on his running mate, two Republican strategists in contact with McCain's campaign said Wednesday. He is expected to reveal his choice at a rally at a basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio, at 11 a.m. on Friday.
McCain's decision is known only to his small inner circle of advisers, no more than three or four people, who have refused all public discussion on the matter. Republicans close to the campaign said that the top contenders remained the same three men who have been the source of speculation for weeks: former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and, possibly, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut.
Despite the reports as well as the event announcement in Dayton including "Special Guests TBA" McCain told the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday that he has not even reached a decision on his running mate, so Friday may not be the announcement.
"I don't know because we have not reached a decision yet, so obviously I couldn't say," McCain said.
Asked if there is someone he is considering whose name hasn't come up, McCain joked, "Well there is one: Wilford Brimley."
"He's a nice supporter of mine," McCain said of the 73-year-old TV pitchman. "Former Marine."
As for the legitimate contenders for the slot, Lieberman would be the biggest risk. It was unclear how seriously McCain was considering his good friend, Lieberman, who favors abortion rights and whose selection could set off a revolt among delegates at the Republican National Convention next week in Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as a furious backlash among Christian conservatives, a crucial voting bloc of the Republican Party. But as recently as Tuesday, McCain was said to still be entertaining the idea of Lieberman, who was Al Gore's running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000.
Under this scenario, McCain's choice of Lieberman would help him appeal to women, independents and conservative Democrats in a tough year for Republican candidates. "It's really alive in McCain's mind," said one Republican consultant familiar with some of the campaign's deliberations.
Some Republicans said they suspected that whatever McCain's personal views, his aides could be pushing Lieberman with reporters as part of a disinformation campaign to stir interest in the selection and to make it appear as if McCain, a longtime opponent of abortion, was open to all possibilities and was therefore more of an independent candidate.
Some Republicans also said that Lieberman did not catch fire as a campaigner in 2000 and that he would alienate more voters, particularly evangelicals, than he would attract.
McCain's inner circle was described as divided on the choices, although one Republican close to the campaign said that there had been no raging internal debate. Whatever the aides' opinions, McCain was said to have made the decision on his own.
Romney remained the most talked-about possibility on Wednesday among Republican Party officials and on cable television, not least because of the theory that he would help McCain win Michigan, a crucial state in this election and where Romney's father served as governor.
But Pawlenty gained some currency as the day wore on because of what were perceived as Romney's downsides, particularly his wealth as many Americans face financial struggles and his past as a venture capital manager. McCain came under attack from Democrats on this front after he was unable to say in an interview last week how many houses he owns.
(The McCain campaign said he had four houses, and the Obama campaign said eight, with McCain's wife. Romney said Wednesday that his houses amounted to "one less than John Kerry," the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, which would add up to four.)
"Twelve houses between them, two rich guys, it's almost like shooting fish in a bucket," said Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who led Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign this year.
In a preview of Democratic attacks should Romney be on the Republican ticket, David Plouffe, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign manager, told reporters at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that Romney was a "job-killing machine" because of business deals he did that sent jobs overseas. A Romney spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, responded that Romney had run the Salt Lake City Olympics and a successful business and that Obama "has never run anything, not even a corner store."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was also mentioned as a possibility on Wednesday, but veteran Republicans quickly discounted her because of what is described as her cool relationship with McCain."It's meshugeneh," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was President Reagan's last chief of staff, using the Yiddish word for crazy.
Contributing: Cox News Service