Aug. 29, 2008— -- Just hours before presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain is expected to announce his running mate, the speculation over who the pick will be has reached frenzied proportions.
McCain, R-Ariz., is scheduled to announce his choice at a noon rally in Dayton, Ohio, and just who the pick is has become the best-kept secret in politics.
ABC News has confirmed that two of the presumed finalists are no longer in contention: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not join McCain on the Republican ticket.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, according to her spokeswoman Sharon Leighow, will not be on hand for the McCain event in Dayton but instead plans to be at the State Fair in Alaska.
Another curve ball is the fact that other possible pick, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is already in Ohio to attend the rally. But the McCain campaign says VIPs are gathering to show unity behind the new ticket.
The timing of McCain's vice presidential roll out is tricky.
Out of respect for Sen. Barack Obama, who accepted the Demoratic nomination Thursday night before 84,000 people at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, the McCain campaign does not want the announcement to leak out and step on Obama's moment.
There's a danger the news will leak once contenders are notified they are not the pick, which happened last week when Obama told Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh they had not been selected.
At the same time, the pick presumeably needs some lead time to fly to Ohio with a speech ready to deliver -- and be in place for the noon event. As of Thursday night, contenders were scattered from coast to coast.
However, any of the contenders could "appear" at the rally in Ohio via satellite.
McCain's Vice Presidential List Gets Shorter
John McCain's vice presidential short list seems to be getting shorter as the Noon event nears and some prominent contenders are no longer in contention.
Mitt Romney's stock as a potential vice president has risen and fallen since his departure from the 2008 presidential race.
Romney was harshly criticized by the Arizona senator and social conservatives alike during the primaries but has made amends since then, raising speculation that the two rivals may let the sometimes personal race be bygones.
But Democrats had already begun to paint the former Massachusetts Governor as flip-flopping on key social issues, including abortion, in a perceived effort to pander to the base.
They also painted Romney, with his $30 million in residential real estate and off-shore tax havens, as elitist and out of touch with everyday Americans.
Gov. Pawlenty was seen as the candidate most closely attuned to McCain's positions.
It was hoped the 47-year-old Pawlenty would bring working class roots and Ronald Reagan conservatism to the ticket -- both of which could appeal to the independent and moderate voters who may decide the election.
Pawlenty has known McCain 20 years and has been a tireless advocate, campaigning throughout the country. Since his election as governor in 2002, he has balanced the budget and pushed through conservative programs and legislation, including waiting periods for abortion.
The issue of abortion may be key to McCain's choice.
The two contenders who support abortion rights -- former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman -- would be an enormous fight for McCain and would alienate a segment of his conservative base.
McCain advisers this past week have been meeting with social conservatives to gauge opposition to those picks, and they've been warned of a brewing revolt that could include a walkout at the Republican National Convention next week and a huge battle on the floor -- especially if the pick is the Independent Democrat Lieberman.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found if John McCain were to pick a running mate who favors legal abortion, it could cost him votes, particularly in some core Republican groups.
Among current McCain supporters, 20 percent said they'd be less likely to vote for McCain if he picked a candidate for vice president who favors abortion rights.