NORFOLK, Virginia - White House hopeful Mitt Romney will reveal his vice presidential pick early Saturday, bringing a months-long search for a running mate to a close as he embarks on a crucial swing-state bus tour.
An official schedule said Romney would make the announcement around 9:00 am (1300 GMT) in Norfolk, Virginia during a prime photo opportunity at the USS Wisconsin, a decommissioned World War II-era battleship that also saw service during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Romney's roll-out of his running mate at the USS Wisconsin is sure to carry heavy military symbolism at a time when the Pentagon is facing drastic budget cuts. He has criticized President Barack Obama's administration for slashing hundreds of billions of dollars from military programs.
Speculation has soared in recent months about who Romney would put on the ticket, with political observers split over whether he would make a safe pick who would do no harm but might be seen as bland, or a bold choice who could fire up the conservative base but carry some risk.
The attention has recently focused on a handful of men, notably Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a calm and dedicated if moderate conservative with considerable Washington experience that Romney lacks, and who could help him win the key state of Ohio.
Another frontrunner is former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a Washington outsider whose blue-collar roots would resonate with voters more than the multimillionaire Romney.
But the announcement venue adds two other men squarely into the mix.
Congressman Paul Ryan, the wonkish budget hawk whose plan to slash federal spending and lower taxes has won over many Republicans, is from the state of Wisconsin, which shares the name of the battleship.
And Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a dark horse in the veepstakes, is suddenly a favorite as Norfolk is in his state, and he served in earlier years as a medical supply officer in nearby Newport News.
The presumptive Republican nominee's campaign had said the announcement could come at any time, but many experts were expecting it to be next week or even the week after, in the run-up to the Republican convention in late August.
They figured Romney might want to hold off until after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in London this weekend, when he and his wife Ann would have time to discuss the decision face to face.
Ann Romney, who co-owns a horse that participated in Olympic dressage competitions, had traveled to London for the Games, but she has since returned and flew to Norfolk late Friday with her husband.
A Saturday unveiling means Romney will have his running mate by his side throughout a vital tour bus swing through the battleground states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, four states that Obama won in 2008 but are in play this time around.
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