GOP Focus for McCain Veep On Romney, Then Lieberman and Pawlenty

But McCain could play his maverick card and pop an unusual name for Veep choice.

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Close advisers to Sen. John McCain continue to drop hints today that the top three running mate possibilities are former foe Mitt Romney, Senate pal Joe Lieberman, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. However, they emphasize that only the closest McCain aides know the truth and that the speculation is based on who would bring more to the ticket—and hurt it the least. "I say it's 75 percent Mitt and 25 percent 'Joementum,'" says a former top McCain aide who still has the ear of the campaign. Another ally pointed to Pawlenty because he has close ties to conservatives, is from a state that McCain needs to win but is too close in the polls to Sen. Barack Obama, and represents a younger fresh face.

One signal that Romney topped the list was a tip to Whispers that U.S. Secret Service officials were visiting Romney's family members, presumably to conduct a security sweep and pick them up for a potential trip to Ohio where McCain plans to formally announce his pick.

And while pundits have speculated that McCain might pick a woman or political newcomer, such as former Hewlett Packard boss Carly Fiorina, former eBay chief Meg Whitman, or Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, none of those names were offered by McCain allies in E-mails to Whispers today.

Still, one insider says that the senator could play his maverick card and pop an unusual name. "Don't try to predict this one with any authority," says the source. Romney has made several appearances in Denver during the Democratic National Convention to rap Obama and praise McCain, and today Pawlenty will fill that role.