Mitt Romney today is headed to his lakeside retreat in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Friday for a three-day weekend, and all signs point to the GOP presidential nominee hunkering down to mull his shortlist for running mates.
Time is running short for Romney to make his selection in advance of the Republican convention in late August. Moreover, Romney is headed to London for the Summer Olympics, which begin July 27, followed by a trip to Israel, his first overseas foray as the presumptive nominee. That’s just two weeks away. If he remains abroad for a couple of weeks, that doesn’t leave much time before the Aug. 27 convention opens in Tampa, Fla.
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Romney has refused to give any hints about his timing. Unveiling his running mate in July would allow him to leave his top surrogate behind for stump speeches and fundraising while he’s out of the country. An announcement closer to the convention would allow suspense to build and potentially boost attention around the party’s biggest pep rally every four years.
“It makes some sense to do it before he goes overseas,’’ said Republican strategist John Weaver, a top advisor to 2008 nominee John McCain of Arizona. “On the other hand, I’m sure they will do a very good vetting process.’’
A rotating cast of characters has emerged in the last month to campaign in battleground states with Romney, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal served as foils during President Obama’s recent bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania, and McDonnell and Portman will play the same role on upcoming presidential trips.
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Perhaps the most visible contender has been Portman, who is slated to deliver the weekly Republican radio address in response to Obama this weekend. The senator is also planning to open a Romney campaign office in Kenwood, Ohio on Saturday and is expected to visit the new Lebanon office in the state on Monday.
After Portman traveled to Boston earlier this week to participate in fundraisers for the campaign, he told ABC News he had about six hours of meetings with Romney aides and did not deny meeting with Beth Myers, who is running the vice presidential search. Portman’s office says the events were all related to fundraising.
Romney’s campaign has successfully managed to keep the process shrouded in secrecy, except for one incident. A news report that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was not being vetted for the job forced Romney to hold an awkward press conference announcing that Rubio was, in fact, being considered by his team.
Several of the presumed short-listers were trotted out during a weekend retreat in Park City, Utah, that Romney’s campaign organized to brief their top donors on the state of the race and to allow them to hobnob with the party’s top talent. Pawlenty, Portman, Jindal, McDonnell and South Dakota Sen. John Thune attended portions of the tony event. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech was lauded by many donors. She is viewed as a longshot because of her close ties to the Bush administration, but her possible candidacy sparked renewed speculation late Thursday when the Drudge Report website posted a story saying she is still in the running.
Nearly everyone who is mentioned as a possible pick has helped Romney haul in cash over the last month. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie introduced Romney at a fundraiser in Iselin, N.J. last month.
During a family vacation in Wolfeboro last week, the Associated Press spotted Romney meeting with Matt Rhoades, senior adviser Myers, and top strategist Stuart Stevens. When Romney decided to return to Wolfeboro this weekend, beginning Friday, it heightened speculation that he was zeroing in on his choice.
“Everything that you’re hearing is people guessing, speculation and people giving their own opinion,’’ said longtime Republican pollster Ed Goeas. “But by now, I think everyone who willing to serve has been asked and they’re doing serious vetting.’’
For now, political junkies are left to read tea leaves. Rhoades teased supporters Thursday afternoon with an email subject line that said “Mitt's VP”' but gave absolutely nothing in the way of clues.
“We're getting ready to share some exciting news,” Rhoades wrote. “Sometime between now and the Republican convention, Mitt will be announcing his choice for VP.”
Sarah Huisenga contributed to this story.