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The plane is ready, the fundraisers are booked: Trump’s VP search comes down to its last days

NEW YORK (AP) — The future Republican vice presidential candidate’s plane is currently parked in an undisclosed hangar, an empty spot on its fuselage for where a decal featuring his or her name will soon be placed.

Fundraisers have been planned.

All that’s left: an announcement from former President Donald Trump on who’s his pick.

Senior advisers and longtime allies insist they still don’t know who the presumptive GOP nominee will choose to join him on the ticket — with many believing the choice is still in flux.

The decision will come at an unprecedented time of upheaval in the presidential race. President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party continue to grapple with his dismal debate performance and the intensifying calls for the 81-year-old president to step aside in favor of a younger candidate.

The Democrats’ crisis has given Trump little incentive to change the subject with a VP announcement that would be sure to draw a flurry of attention and focus to his pick.

But Trump will have plenty of opportunities this week to ratchet up the speculation about a process that his team has kept extraordinarily close to the vest.

Opportunities to announce

Trump has two rallies planned. The first is scheduled for Tuesday evening at his golf club in Doral, Florida, near Miami. The primetime scheduling and location would seem to provide an ideal opportunity to unveil his pick if it is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami native who is one of his top contenders.

On Saturday he’ll travel to the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania for an afternoon rally at the Butler Farm Show. The venue, outside of Pittsburgh, is not far from the border of Ohio, which is home to Sen. JD Vance, another potential pick.

Also said to be on Trump’s short list is North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who has grown close to the former president since he dropped his own bid for the nomination before voting began.

Trump doesn’t need a rally to unveil his pick. He could simply announce the news on his Truth Social platform at any moment between now and the Republican National Convention, which kicks off in Milwaukee on July 15. Or he could wait until the convention opens to make a grand, on-stage curtain reveal reminiscent of his days as the host of the “The Apprentice” reality TV show.

Trump has repeatedly said he intends to unveil his pick just before or during the convention. But he has been coy about his choice.

Late last month, before the debate, Trump told NBC News at a campaign stop in Philadelphia that he’d already made a decision.

“In my mind, yeah,” he said.

But less than a week later, he told a local Virginia television station that his decision was still in flux.

“Well I have people in mind. I have so many good people. We have such a deep bench,” he said. “But we’ll be making a decision sometime early convention or before convention.”

The front-runners say they don’t know yet

“As President Trump has said himself, the top criteria in selecting a Vice President is a strong leader who could make a great President,” Trump adviser Brian Hughes said in a statement he has issued repeatedly. “But anyone telling you they know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying unless that person is named Donald J. Trump.”

That includes the front-runners for the job.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Rubio said he remained in the dark.

“Look, I’ve heard nothing, I know nothing, and you probably know more than I do about it,” he said. “Donald Trump has a decision to make. He’ll make it when he needs to make it. He’ll make a good decision. I know for certain that I will be out there over the next three or four months, working on behalf of his campaign in some capacity.”

He also dismissed questions about whether he has discussed changing his residence from Florida if he’s chosen as “presumptuous.” The Constitution bars the president and vice president from hailing from the same state.

“We’ll confront those issues when they come,” he said. “But we’re not there yet. But we will be soon, one way or the other.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vance, too, said he has not received news one way or the other: “I have not gotten the call.”

“But most importantly,” he went on, ”we’re just trying to work to elect Donald Trump. Whoever his vice president is — he’s got a lot of good people he could choose from — it’s the policies that worked and the leadership style that worked for the American people. I think we have to bring that back to the White House, and I’m fighting to try to do that.”

A top ally is still pushing for Tim Scott

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime Trump ally, continued to push for his fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate.

“I don’t think he’s decided,” he said, again making his case for Scott, who he said would be a particularly smart choice if Biden were to be replaced at the top of the ticket by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to serve in the office.

If Harris is picked, Graham said, “This is a dramatically different race than it is right now today. I hope people are thinking about that on our side.”

Biden has insisted he won’t drop out and said only “ the Lord Almighty ” could get him to change his mind.

Graham commended Trump’s other choices at the same time. He called Burgum “solid as a rock” and said Vance “could be a good wingman,” but questioned whether the Republican firebrand — who was once a vocal Trump critic but is now one of his fiercest defenders in the Senate — could bring in new states.

Rubio, he noted, has the issue of his residency to contend with, but called him a “very articulate conservative” who could help Trump “enormously.” Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, also speaks Spanish.

“If I were President Trump, I would make sure I pick somebody that could add value in 2024. Expand the map,” Graham said.

___ Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

Jill Colvin, The Associated Press