WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama prolonged the suspense over his vice presidential pick on Friday, saying he had chosen an independent voice who could be an effective governing partner — but not announcing the name.
Obama dragged out the unveiling of his No. 2 for maximum political impact, keeping pundits guessing and supporters waiting as he stayed out of public sight most of the day.
Obama, 47, a first-term Illinois senator, says he has decided on a running mate who will be prepared to step in as president, can help him govern and will be independent.
“I want somebody who is going to challenge my thinking and not simply be a yes person when it comes to policy-making,” he said on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
The announcement could come at any time. Obama is expected to appear with his running mate on Saturday in his home state of Illinois as they launch their run to the Democratic convention in Denver.
The convention opens on Monday and the vice president will accept the nomination on Wednesday.
Obama will make the announcement of a vice president by text messages and e-mails to his list of more than 2 million supporters after stretching out the suspense about his choice for days.
“I’m pretty disciplined on this,” Obama said on CBS.
History has shown the choice is unlikely to have a major impact on the November 4 White House election between Obama and Republican John McCain, who also has not selected a No. 2. Polls show the two are running neck and neck.
The selection of a running mate and the upcoming conventions will give both Obama and McCain a chance for the political spotlight and offer hints of what qualities they most value in a political partner.
Speculation about Obama’s choice has centered on three prime contenders — Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.
Other names in the mix include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Texas Rep. Chet Edwards.
Most of the candidates were trying to stay out of the spotlight. “This is his decision and I expect him to make it however he feels is best,” Clinton told reporters. The former first lady was Obama’s chief rival during the Democratic nominating primaries.
While jumpy news organizations awaited the announcement — an inaccurate early afternoon report that Kaine was the choice was sparked by a hoax e-mail — Obama worked out at a gym and prepared for his prime-time acceptance speech in Denver next Thursday.
Republicans tried to build up expectations for Obama. McCain’s campaign released a memo from strategist Sarah Simmons predicting a 15-point surge in the polls for Obama after the gathering.
That would almost match the biggest post-convention bounce in recent history, Democrat Bill Clinton’s 16-point gain in 1992. But McCain and Republicans will hold their convention the week after the Democrats, seizing the political focus and perhaps limiting any gains for Obama.
Obama was happy to let the vice presidential speculation linger as his campaign focused on another issue — McCain’s inability to say how many houses he owns. Obama said that was evidence McCain was out of touch with the economic struggles of most Americans.
In an interview with the Politico newspaper on Wednesday, the Arizona senator was unable to say how many houses he owned with his wife, Cindy, a wealthy heiress to a beer distributorship. Media reports have found at least seven.
On CBS, Obama noted McCain’s other comments that the economy was “fundamentally strong” and had made progress under President George W. Bush and said McCain “obviously doesn’t have a very clear sense of what ordinary Americans are going through.”
Obama’s campaign released another ad on the topic, with a narrator saying: “Maybe McCain thinks this economy is working, for folks like him. But how are things going for you?”
The McCain campaign has fought back with questions about Obama’s own house in the affluent Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park and an advertisement detailing Obama’s relationship to Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, a former fundraiser for Obama who helped him buy a lot adjoining his house.
Rezko was convicted of fraud, attempted bribery and money laundering in June in a corruption case that did not involve Obama, who has severed connections with Rezko.
McCain also is taking a day off the campaign trail on Friday at home in Arizona.
Editing by Peter Cooney