Kerry believed close to VP choice

Democrats are abuzz over short list, rumors of an announcement today

Election 2004

July 06, 2004|By John McCormick and Jeff Zeleny | John McCormick and Jeff Zeleny,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

FOX CHAPEL, Pa. - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry met with top advisers and rallied supporters on his wife's hilltop estate yesterday as speculation continued to build that he might announce his running mate as early as today.

But just as Kerry's campaign worked to build drama surrounding the announcement, President Bush looked for ways to douse it, including a possible ad featuring Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

As of late yesterday, the Massachusetts senator said he hadn't yet made up his mind.

"I've made no decision at this point in time," Kerry told a Pittsburgh television station. Later, he told another interviewer, "I have communicated to nobody what any decision is."

Three weeks before the Democratic National Convention, Kerry finds himself being asked almost nothing except who he plans to put on his ticket, a decision he must make before month's end.

Even though the buzz threatened to drown out his message of change, there's little question that the campaign is basking in the heightened attention.

Seeking to dampen expectations of an imminent announcement, Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, said in an interview that her husband's thinking on the matter "depends on the time of day," before adding that "you'll know pretty soon."

Friends and supporters from the battleground states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio listened as Kerry gave an uncharacteristically short speech outside the Heinz family estate.

He ended it by encouraging people to attend the morning rally: "At 9 o'clock tomorrow, we're going to have some fun."

Later, Kerry downplayed rumors that he would make the announcement at a rally this morning in downtown Pittsburgh. "I think all of my rallies are important," he said.

Still, television networks were given the opportunity to inspect the site for visual logistics, perhaps signifying the rally's importance. Pittsburgh residents were being encouraged to attend the event, as several large risers and signs were installed on the site late yesterday.

As his campaign quietly made its preparations for an announcement, reports of Kerry's behind-the-scenes machinations took on a feverish pace. Democratic officials confirmed that Sen. John Edwards secretly met with Kerry last Thursday, interrupting the North Carolina senator's family vacation to Walt Disney World.

Two senior party officials said Kerry's meeting with Edwards went well, but an official close to Edwards said the meeting ended without a commitment or decision from Kerry.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack are also believed to be at the top of Kerry's list of finalists, although numerous other names have circulated as well.

As the campaign went to great lengths to keep the identity of Kerry's choice a secret, it quietly asked Iowa television stations if they wanted the downlink satellite coordinates for Kerry's event this morning.

Vilsack, a Pittsburgh native, is officially on vacation this week. A top aide declined to reveal the governor's location last night.

Earlier, several hundred guests milled around the Heinz compound chatting about the running-mate question after dining on hot dogs and hamburgers, along with Iron City beer and sodas.

"There is no sense that Kerry needs some blockbuster choice to excite and unify the party," said Rep. Joe Hoeffel, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. "He's already done that."

The Associated Press quoted GOP sources that suggested Bush's campaign might roll out an ad featuring McCain, a popular Republican and veteran, around the time of Kerry's running-mate announcement. McCain, often at odds with the president, repeatedly declined invitations to join Kerry's ticket.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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