WASHINGTON: White House hopeful Mitt Romney is making the most of his family vacation at their New Hampshire lakefront compound, but there is a question he can't seem to jet-ski away from: who will he pick as his running mate?
The Republican flag bearer has a week of fun and sun, sporting events and ice cream outings in and around Wolfeboro, a small, 250-year-old New England town where he is set to participate Wednesday in the Independence Day parade, according to his campaign.
It will be the latest of several public appearances by Romney and members of his large clan -- comprising about 30 people including 18 grandchildren -- who have made it a tradition to put aside their work lives for one summer week on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
They have been seen trooping into Bailey's Bubble ice cream shop, attending church on Sunday, visiting with friends, lounging on the compound's beach, and piling into a speed boat with Romney at the helm.
Photos and video show wife Ann Romney at the controls of a cherry-red Sea-Doo watercraft, her husband seated behind her, as the couple jet around the lake where the family has vacationed for decades.
But this year is different. Romney is the Republican Party nominee-to-be locked in a race against President Barack Obama, and US Secret Service agents are shadowing the candidate's movements.
Romney also has timely campaign decisions to make. Between now and the Republican convention in late August he needs to zero in on the man or woman who he hopes will become his vice president after November's election.
At least two potential picks will be in or near Wolfeboro this week.
Senator Kelly Ayotte campaigned with Romney in her native New Hampshire at the start of his bus tour last month across six battleground states, and she is participating in the same July 4 parade as Romney, her office said.
And Senator Rob Portman, a veteran Washington insider from the key swing state of Ohio, attends a reception in nearby Concord on Saturday coordinated by New Hampshire's Republican committee.
A dozen names are circulating as potential vice presidential picks. Senator Marco Rubio could help Romney win the largest swing state of all, Florida, and neutralize Obama's advantage among Hispanic voters.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has a personable working-man connection with voters that Romney, a multimillionaire former businessman and investor, lacks.
Most potential picks have studiously avoided suggestions that they covet the VP position, but at least one is hinting that he is interested.
"This is an election with one voter, Mitt Romney, and he gets to decide who he thinks should be the vice president of the United States," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNBC.
"I love being governor of New Jersey," he said. "But the fact is, if governor Romney picks up the phone and calls, you have to answer the call and listen at least."
Showing up in person at the candidate's vacation home could allow Romney, known to be a careful planner, some face time with the politician he eventually picks as his running mate.
Romney's meticulousness is seen as an asset in this year's vetting process, given the events of 2008 when nominee John McCain made what some critics thought was an impulse choice of Sarah Palin, the little-known governor of Alaska, to be his running mate.
But the process remains secretive, and the campaign has not disclosed which politicians, if any, may visit Romney this week in Wolfeboro.
"There aren't a whole lot of tea leaves to read," University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, a close watcher of the VP stakes, told MSNBC Tuesday.
"Nobody but a handful of people at the top of the Romney campaign have a clue what's really going on" in terms of the vetting process.