Donald Trump stoked intense speculation about his narrowing search for a running mate today as he met privately with the apparent finalists in Indianapolis.
It is the culmination of a months-long, frequently televised talent contest now approaching its season finale.
One by one, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee met Indiana Governor Mike Pence, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senator Jeff Sessions, summoning them for last-minute gatherings after weeks of teasing his uncertainty on social media and on the campaign trail.
The day also carried the lure of intrigue: Trump initially was expected to depart Indiana on Wednesday, hours after Pence had a well-received audition for the running-mate role at a raucous Trump rally in Westfield.
Instead, after his plane experienced unidentified mechanical issues, he dined with Pence in downtown Indianapolis and visited the Governor's residence. He was joined by his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner; his sons Donald and Eric; and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
"I don't know if he's going to be your governor or your vice-president, who the hell knows?" Trump had said Tat the campaign rally, as thousands of supporters cheered.
Trump said that he plans to announce his choice by Saturday, but aides said news of his selection could emerge earlier.
The candidate and his family decided over the weekend to meet with each of the leading contenders as Trump continued to deliberate, according to a Trump ally. On Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie campaigned with the candidate in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and spent time with the campaign team all day, and sat with Trump as they flew between cities. Christie spent Thursday in Washington at the Williard InterContinental hotel holding meetings for Trump's presidential transition project and was in touch with senior campaign aides.
Picking a running mate is one of the most consequential decisions a presidential candidate can make before Election Day. It offers a chance to breathe new energy into a campaign but also can weigh down a candidate with unforeseen baggage. Many GOP strategists say Trump - who has struggled to stay on message in recent months amid missteps and controversies - needs a running mate who can defend him from a deluge of attacks and negative media attention.
The campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has attacked Trump in recent weeks, mocking his grasp of American government and questioning his character and integrity.
"In times like these, we need a president who can help pull us together, not split us apart. And that is why I believe Donald Trump is so dangerous," Clinton said today during a speech at the historic Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.
"His campaign is as divisive as any we have seen in our lifetimes. It is built on stoking mistrust and pitting American against American. It's there in everything he says and everything he promises to do as president."
With Trump preparing to formally accept the GOP nomination next week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the campaign is eager to reset months of discord with a display of unity, particularly with members of the Republican establishment who are still sceptical of Trump's candidacy.
Trump and his aides have said the presumptive nominee has looked for candidates who have political experience and an ability to work with legislators in Washington.
A Trump ally described the conversations with the various contenders as opportunities for Trump to sit with his leading candidates and have his family meet them. Manafort in recent days has been a proponent of picking a seasoned elected official, said people familiar with the discussions.
At the top of that list is Pence, who has built a rapport with Trump and his family in recent weeks. His political experience and his reputation as a staunch social conservative make him an appealing choice for Trump, who has struggled to win over segments of the hard right and the Republican establishment.