CHICAGO (AFP) — Democrat Barack Obama stoked furious speculation by holding fire on his running mate announcement, on a day of intrigue also featuring barbed attacks on his Republican rival John McCain.
A long-awaited text message unveiling Obama's vice presidential pick will be sent Saturday morning, a few hours before a campaign event scheduled in Springfield, Illinois, US television networks NBC and Fox reported.
NBC cited unidentified sources as saying that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine had been informed they are out of the running, leaving one top contender, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, still going strong in the speculation stakes.
The Illinois senator's campaign meanwhile hurled new blows against his multiple-home-owning foe McCain, branding him aloof from US economic woes, in the run-up to next week's Democratic convention.
A Texan dark horse, political material supposedly confirming another contender and evasive remarks from all concerned meanwhile deepened the mystery over the identity of the White House hopeful's vice presidential nominee.
ABC affiliate KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri reported that it had found car bumper stickers inscribed with "Obama-Bayh 08" being produced by a company specializing in political literature in Kansas state.
But it is customary in presidential campaigns for various VP names to be printed to cover all eventualities, and in any case the stickers did not appear to match the look of official Obama material.
The Obama campaign was resolutely tight-lipped, having promised to release the VP pick in an electronic blizzard of text messages and emails to registered supporters.
Obama says he has already selected his running mate and spent much of the day holed up in a downtown Chicago hotel to work on the convention acceptance speech he will deliver in a Denver stadium next Thursday.
He was widely expected to appear with his running mate at the rally Saturday in Springfield, the town where he first launched his White House bid in February 2007.
But TV network crews were taking no chances, besieging the homes of the potential candidates and camping out at Chicago's Midway airport where Obama's custom-painted plane was parked on the tarmac.
A little-known contender entered the pack as Texan lawmaker Chet Edwards, whose House of Representatives district encompasses President George W. Bush's Crawford ranch, disclosed that he had been vetted by Obama aides.
"I've been considered throughout this process," he told CNN, welcoming the support he has received as a prospective VP by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the country's top elected Democrat.
"But I've respected the process from day one and I want to continue to do that today, and allow any details about the process and final decisions to be made by Senator Obama and their campaign, not by anybody else," Edwards said.
One politician apparently ruling herself out was Hillary Clinton, whom Obama vanquished for the Democratic nomination and who is now being watched attentively for any signs of unhappiness as she prepares to speak in Denver.
"I am not in that arena. This is his decision and I respect him to make it however he thinks is best for him and the country," the New York senator and former first lady told reporters.
In a CBS interview that aired early Friday, Obama again refused to drop any VP hints and dwelled instead on attacking McCain as being "out of touch" with the anxieties of ordinary voters.
The Democrat said he himself had only struck it rich in the last couple of years, as his book sales took off.
"John McCain's been living like this for the last 25. And, obviously, doesn't have a very clear sense of what ordinary Americans are going through," he said.
McCain was also off the campaign trail Friday, finalizing his own VP pick days before next week's Democratic National Convention marks the formal start of hostilities for November's presidential election.
The Obama camp has been heaping scorn on McCain after the Arizona senator, in an interview with Politico.com released Thursday, could not say how many homes he and his wealthy wife own.
"Maybe McCain thinks this economy is working -- for folks like him," said the Obama campaign's second ad hammering the property portfolio flap. "But how are things going for you?"
McCain's campaign battled to limit the damage by pointing to Obama's ties to convicted fraudster Tony Rezko, a Chicago businessman and fundraiser who helped the Democrat with the purchase of his spacious family home.
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