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Clinton closes in on VP choice: Kaine and Vilsack leading the way

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) acknowledge the crowd during a campaign event at Ernst Community Cultural Center at Northern Virginia Community College July 14, 2016, in Annandale, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton is spending two days at home in New York, finalizing her decision for a running mate, before formally introducing her Democratic ticket during a weekend campaign swing in Florida, according to several Democrats familiar with the search.

Clinton is planning to announce her decision in a message to supporters, a campaign official told CNN, and make her first appearance with her vice presidential candidate in Tampa on Friday or Miami on Saturday.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have emerged as leading contenders after a rigorous vetting process, Democrats close to the selection believe, but they are not the only two prospects still in contention.

“I don’t expect a decision is made or announced until the weekend between the convention,” Kaine said Wednesday during an appearance before the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “It’s wonderful to be mentioned. But I love my job and trying not to overly think it.”

When asked about his prospects to join the Democratic ticket, Kaine was self-deprecating, saying he went through the vice presidential search in 2008 as well, when Barack Obama ultimately selected Joe Biden. He laughed, saying: “I kind of know the rhythm of it.”

Kaine and Vilsack have told friends they cannot talk about the vetting process and are keeping their schedules until they hear from the Clinton campaign.

“The conventional wisdom in this case seems likely to be right,” one Democrat close to Clinton told CNN, believing Kaine has the upper hand but cautioning that Clinton could still deliver a surprise.

Clinton has not made her final decision, an aide said, or if she has, she has not disclosed it. Even the small universe of advisers working on the selection process, who are making plans to help on the announcement, are not certain who she will choose.

She has consulted many people for thoughts and advice, including President Barack Obama, who is close to Kaine and Vilsack, who serves in his Cabinet.

The deliberations, led by campaign chairman John Podesta, have been extraordinarily private — a striking contrast to those of Donald Trump. But Democrats say former President Bill Clinton also has been involved in discussions and is impressed by Kaine, who has the support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally.

“He gets a say, but doesn’t have a vote on this,” one Clinton friend said of the former president.

Clinton’s frenetic search for a vice president appears to have calmed down on Wednesday — at least publicly — with Clinton spending the entire day secluded at her home in Chappaqua, New York. This was a marked difference from the stream of candidates that visited Clinton at her home in Washington last week.

Action around Clinton’s home on Wednesday was limited to gawking tourists, delivery trucks and pest control vans. No aides were seen coming or going from the house, where Secret Service agents remained perched throughout the day.

Several Democratic senators, donors and people close to the campaign who have spoken to Clinton say she is aware of the criticism that neither Kaine nor Vilsack is seen as a particularly flashy or exciting candidate. She also has considered Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown, in addition to others.

“I love that about him,” Clinton told CBS’ Charlie Rose Monday night, when asked about Kaine being too boring, something the Virginia senator has joked about. “He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator and is one of the most highly respected senators I know.”

Clinton praised several candidates, saying she has the “blessing of having some excellent choices.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who Clinton also met with on Friday, is still in discussion as well, but would be a “stunning surprise,” in the words of one Democrat close to the process.

The location of Florida leads many to believe it would be an ideal place to unveil Kaine, who speaks fluent Spanish.

Clinton will visit Orlando on Friday, scheduled to meet with victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, and travel to Tampa for a campaign rally later that day at the Florida State Fairgrounds. She will hold a rally on Saturday at Florida International University in Miami.

Clinton aides, who were far from open about the vice presidential process, have grown even more tight about information after watching how Trump’s vice presidential roll out played out. Laughing at times from their Brooklyn headquarters, Clinton’s top aides pledged to avoid leaks and embarrassing stories that plagued Trump’s announcement of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

What Pence did provide the Clinton campaign is more freedom to pick someone who doesn’t solidify a demographic base. Should Trump have picked a woman or a black or Latino vice presidential candidate, Clinton aides thought they would have to match Trump’s pick to respond. But with Trump picking Pence, a well-liked establishment figure, aides feel they have more leeway to pick a more run-of-the-mill candidate.

Clinton has demanded a secretive selection process, even as she has campaigned alongside Kaine, Warren and other contenders in plain sight.

“Kaine would be best, but you know the Clintons,” one top Democrat said. “They may do something more calculating.”