MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Wednesday he has begun the process of finding a vice presidential running mate and wants someone who shares his views and can take his place.
Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane, the expected Republican nominee said he had seen news reports that a defeated rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, had expressed interest in the job, but he offered no comment one way or the other on whether Romney would be a candidate.
"I got that impression watching the interview last night," McCain said of Romney's interest in the No. 2 slot on the Republican ticket in November's election.
Romney told Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" on Tuesday that "any Republican leader in this country would be honored to be asked to serve as the vice presidential nominee, myself included."
Romney endorsed McCain in February after the Arizona senator defeated him in an often caustic campaign battle. McCain will face either Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York or Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in November.
At a town-hall meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, McCain went out of his way to praise Romney and other vanquished Republican candidates.
"He fought well. I believe that Gov. Romney has earned a place in our Republican Party and I believe he is part of the future of our Republican Party," he said.
Talking to reporters on his campaign bus, the 71-year-old McCain made clear he has not put together a list of candidates yet but has some ideas in mind. He said he could not say whether Romney was "on or off the list."
NO DECISION EXPECTED SOON
Offering some details on what type of person he was considering, McCain said he did not believe having a "personal bond" with the running mate was all that critical as long as they shared the same views and philosophy.
He also said he did not think the vice presidential candidate needed to be from a certain region or was necessary to carry a state.
He said he expected to compile a long list of candidates and whittle it down to a short list as is typically done.
McCain said he was just beginning to put together a search team to vet potential candidates and seek background checks on them. He joked that he has had "at least 100 volunteers to lead" the search for a No. 2.
No decision was expected anytime soon. Presidential nominees often wait until just before their party's nominating convention in late summer to announce their running mate.
McCain said he and advisers have begun discussing "what was the process that was used in other campaigns, what process should we go through."
He said his prime criteria is someone "who can take your place, shares your principles, your values and your vision and your priorities."
McCain talked about his vice presidential search as he came to New Hampshire to hold a town-hall meeting in Exeter and say thank you to the state that revived his candidacy.
McCain won New Hampshire in January and put him on track to seize control of the Republican race, months after he was given up for dead.
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)