Trump and family meet with VP finalists

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Donald Trump on Wednesday entered the final phase of his high-profile search for a running mate, arranging last-minute meetings with his finalists and family members as his staff prepares for a Friday announcement.

Trump posted on Twitter Wednesday evening that he would reveal his choice at 11 a.m. Friday in Manhattan.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, his adult children and key staffers huddled with prospects earlier in the day.

He began Wednesday with breakfast at the residence of one, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Wednesday morning, a day after the pair campaigned together in the state. They were joined by Trump’s three adult children, along with his son-and-law and campaign chair Paul Manafort, who were seen leaving the residence.

Hours later, Newt Gingrich, another finalist, was seen with Trump’s entourage at a downtown Indianapolis hotel. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been advising Trump, was spotted arriving at the same hotel not long after Gingrich left.

Trump’s family, including Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, also met privately with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday. The meeting was confirmed by a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, but was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures as he introduces Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during a rally in Virginia Beach, Va., Monday, July 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures as he introduces Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during a rally in Virginia Beach, Va., Monday, July 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The meetings have been designed to let Trump’s family get to know the candidates better before the presumptive nominee formalizes his decision.

Trump had originally planned to fly back from Indiana with Pence following a rally Tuesday night, but his plane was grounded by mechanical issues, so Trump’s kids flew to join them in Indiana, another person familiar with his movements but not authorized to discuss them said.

“It was a late plan,” Pence told reporters later Wednesday. “I was hauling dishes from the cupboard at midnight. (Pence’s wife) Karen laid out a nice spread.”

Indiana is a state with particular significance for the presumptive GOP nominee: It’s where he effectively locked up the GOP nomination with a commanding primary win that drove former rival Ted Cruz from the race.

Pence, Christie and Gingrich were said to be the final contenders for vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket less than a week before the GOP meets in Cleveland for the formal nomination. That’s according to a person familiar with Trump’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the vetting process. Trump said in a Tuesday interview with The Wall Street Journal that Sessions, Trump’s top Senate advocate, is also still in the mix.

In this July 7, 2016, photo, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., center, talks with reporters after a meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Senate Republican Conference at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington. Sessions is one of several Republicans Trump is considering for his vice presidential running mate. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this July 7, 2016, photo, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., center, talks with reporters after a meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Senate Republican Conference at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Pence is a steady, staunch conservative who would help calm nervous Republican wary of Trump’s impulsive style. Gingrich is a boisterous rabble-rouser who has spent decades in Washington, including as House speaker. Christie, a one-time rival, has become one of Trump’s most trusted advisers.

Trump has spent weeks consulting with friends and family as he weighs the most important decision of his campaign to date. He’s also brought his finalists on tour, having them opening for him at speeches and rallies to test their receptions before his crowds.

“It’s a little bit like ‘The Apprentice,'” Gingrich, the former House Speaker, said in a Tuesday interview with Fox News Channel. “You find out sooner or later who the last one standing is.”

FILE - In this July 6, 2016 file photo, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks before introducing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Cincinnati. Fox News says it is suspending its contributor agreement with Newt Gingrich "due to the intense media speculation" about him as a potential vice presidential candidate of Republican Donald Trump. He joined the network in 1999, and his role was suspended in 2011 when he ran for president in 2012. He returned to Fox in 2015. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE – In this July 6, 2016 file photo, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks before introducing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Trump appeared reluctant to commit on Wednesday. “I’m narrowing it down. I mean I’m at three, potentially four. But in my own mind, I probably am thinking about two,” he told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier.

Introducing Trump at a rally in Westfield, Indiana, on Tuesday evening, Pence received an enthusiastic reception as he compared Trump to Republican icon Ronald Reagan and dug into Trump’s likely Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton.

Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday he is looking for a “fighter skilled in hand-to-hand combat” as his second-in-command, but hadn’t seen enough of Pence to measure his fight.

While Trump kept his cards close, he spoke playfully of Pence at the rally: “I don’t know whether he’s going to be your governor or your vice president.”

Pence told reporters Wednesday he was “honored by the attention” and the “opportunity to get to know this good man and his family.”

“There’s a number of other and noteworthy Americans that they’re considering and I’m just honored to be on that list,” he said.

Pence and Gingrich would be welcome picks among anxious Republican officials already gathering in Cleveland for next week’s convention. Their governing experience and popularity among the party’s conservative base would mark a sharp contrast to Trump, whose brand of politics has alienated hard-line conservatives and establishment Republicans alike.

Trump’s team has been building hype for the decision, including in a text message to supporters that urged recipients to sign up to receive an early notification of the choice. Fox News Channel added to the speculation Tuesday when it said it had suspended its contributor agreement with Gingrich “due to the intense media speculation” about his potential to join Trump’s ticket.

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Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York and Julie Bykowicz in Indiana contributed to this report.

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