By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008
Sen. John McCain will hold a noontime rally with his running mate today in Dayton, Ohio, kicking off his "Road to the Convention" tour in front of thousands of supporters at Wright State University.
The identity of McCain's partner remained secret last night even as McCain's campaign arrived in the crucial battleground state in advance of the rally, which will be followed by appearances at minor league baseball stadiums in Pennsylvania and Missouri.
McCain aides have said they hope to use the announcement of the GOP vice presidential candidate to help slow the political momentum from the Democratic convention, which ended last night.
As the secret held, furious speculation about McCain's choice for a running mate centered yesterday on two conservative Republicans: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Pawlenty abruptly canceled his schedule yesterday afternoon, while reports of Secret Service sweeps of a Romney family member's home in Michigan suggested it was him instead.
A senior Republican operative said there was no evidence of an effort to reach out and soothe conservatives, a move that would probably be vital if McCain picked a candidate who favored abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge or Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).
"There's no battle plan to talk to conservatives," the operative said. "That's pretty dispositive in my mind."
Top advisers said late Wednesday night that McCain had made his decision and planned to tell the lucky partner the next day. But in a Pittsburgh radio interview taped Wednesday and made public yesterday, McCain said he had not yet made up his mind.
"I haven't decided yet, so I can't tell you," he told KDKA NewsRadio.
As the day progressed, the top handful of McCain aides who are privy to the decision went "radio silent," in the words of one top Republican. That left reporters and most Republicans speculating and reading tea leaves.
One national reporter mused on his newspaper's blog that a 6 p.m. McCain rally tomorrow -- the Jewish Sabbath -- might portend good news for Lieberman, since observant Jews do not work before sundown on Saturdays. But a senior GOP official later warned: "There are two sides to every leaf."
Early yesterday, McCain advisers teased that they would air an "exciting" and "historic" ad just at the moment that Sen. Barack Obama takes to the stage for his speech. Speculation swirled that McCain might use the airwaves to announce his running mate.
But hours later, the campaign revealed the campaign ad to be a congratulatory statement from McCain to Obama, offering kudos for becoming the first African American to win the nomination of a major party.
In front of a simple black background, McCain declares to the camera, "Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America. Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say congratulations."
Alluding to the fact that yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the presumptive GOP nominee continues: "How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, Senator, job well done."
Without real news on a running mate, Internet sites were left to offer screaming headlines with the latest rumors.
The Drudge Report blasted the headline: NAME MAY LEAK AT 6 PM ET . . . WITH SOME SORT OF CONFIRMATION AT 8 PM . . . DEVELOPING . . ."
Time magazine's "The Page" offered a lead headline about a TV report that Pawlenty had canceled all appearances, only to follow it moments later with another headline that said he planned to be at the Minnesota state fair today, not with McCain.
McCain flew to Dayton yesterday evening, landing just a couple of hours before Obama's speech. He arrived to news reports that free tickets are still available to his rally today at Wright State's 12,000-seat basketball arena.
On Wednesday, McCain huddled with advisers in his compound outside of Sedona, Ariz. Last week, he spent several days there, leaving only for a cup of coffee in the morning and to do what his campaign merely labeled as "filming" amid the majestic red rocks of the area.
McCain will celebrate his 72nd birthday today, a milestone that his campaign aims to play down. But the Democratic party promised to throw him birthday parties at every stop along his pre-convention tour of battleground states.
Some lobbyists, consultants and Republicans on Capitol Hill said they think Romney is the most likely pick for McCain, in part because he would be a do-no-harm candidate.
"Mitt by far and away is the most logical pick," one GOP consultant said. "Look at the polling nationwide. The only guy that helps at all is Romney."
Karl Rove, President Bush's former top political adviser, was queried on Fox News about reports that he had gone to Lieberman to urge him to withdraw from consideration for the good of the party.
Rove declined to answer the direct question but also did not deny it, saying only that the report was "inaccurate."
"I'm gonna leave it where I left it," Rove said after being asked the question several times. In an interview with The Washington Post later, Rove again declined to comment.
Asked by Fox's Chris Wallace whether Lieberman would be a good running mate, Rove said that "he would be great for the country" but added that Lieberman would create political problems for McCain at the convention and in the campaign to come.
One senior Republican who had talked personally with Romney, Ridge and Pawlenty during the past two days said, "All of them believe that it's not them."
Staff writers Robert Barnes in Dayton and Juliet Eilperin in Washington contributed to this report.