WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopeful John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama are in the final stretch of the process of selecting their running mates -- even if they won't openly say so.
Asked Monday about his timeline for announcing a choice, and how many potential number-twos he was considering, McCain sidestepped the question.
"I would love to, but I can't. And I'm sure you understand," he told ABC.
Mark Salter, a close McCain adviser, added: "I've been instructed on the penalty of death that I give no clues as to where the process is."
It was also all quiet on the Obama front.
"We're not speaking to anyone. This is for Senator Obama to share at the appropriate time," said Eric Holder, whom Obama asked to vet potential vice presidents along with Caroline Kennedy, daughter of president John F Kennedy.
But even as they keep the lid on things, both of their parties' presumptive nominees have been offering clues as to who their running mates may be.
A former contender for the Republican presidential nod, Massachusetts ex-governor Mitt Romney, is one possibility for McCain, and the two men campaigned side by side in Michigan on Friday.
Picking Romney, a business executive, "given the down economic times that we're living in ... would give McCain a layer of credibility on economic issues," said Thomas Whalen, a political historian and professor of social science at Boston University.
Last week, at a rally in Indiana, Obama appeared with two people widely named as possible vice presidential timbre: Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a former supporter of Hillary Clinton, and Sam Nunn, a former Georgia senator with ample national security credentials.
On his visit to Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama took the stage with two other possible running mates, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel -- a Republican who opposes the Iraq war -- and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, both of them defense experts.
And they are not the only "could bes" -- on the Republican side Tim Pawlenty and Charlie Crist, governors of Minnesota and Florida respectively, are frequently mentioned.
The Democratic field is also often said to include Joe Biden, current head of the Senate foreign relations committee; Tim Kaine, a popular governor of Virginia; and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.
The idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket seems a somewhat improbable wild card.
Obama was expected to announce his pick ahead of the party convention August 25-28, although analysts say it is unlikely he will do so during the Olympic Games in Beijing August 8-24, which Americans are expected to follow closely.
A few have floated the date August 4, when Obama turns 47.
In 2004, John Kerry announced his running mate, John Edwards, 20 days ahead of the Democratic convention. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush announced theirs four days ahead of their parties' gathering.
McCain has more time and could wait until after the Democratic convention. If he announces on August 29, he would deflect media attention to his birthday; he'll be 72. The Republican convention starts September 1.
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