INDIANAPOLIS — Donald Trump stoked intense speculation Wednesday about his narrowing search for a running mate after he and members of his family scheduled meetings with several top candidates for the slot here in Indiana.
Trump and his family visited the Indianapolis home of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for a private meeting Wednesday morning and dined with Pence on Tuesday night, just hours after Pence had a well-received audition for the role at a raucous Trump campaign rally. The morning meeting was confirmed by a Trump aide and documented by television crews that were staked out on Pence’s sidewalk as the real estate mogul’s motorcade arrived.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was seen in Indiana late Wednesday morning by multiple Trump campaign associates who said he was scheduled to meet with Trump and his family. He appeared to be initially unaware that Trump had also met with Pence until several news outlets reported the gathering.
According to a Trump ally, the candidate and his family decided over the weekend to meet with each of the leading contenders as Trump continued to deliberate. On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned with Trump in Virginia Beach and spent time with the campaign team all day, and sat with Trump as they flew between cities.
Those conversations with Christie on Monday and Gingrich later Wednesday were described by the ally as similar in nature to the Pence dinner and breakfast Wednesday: opportunities for Trump to sit with his top candidates and have his family meet them.
Trump was joined early Wednesday by his eldest daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner; his sons Donald Jr. and Eric; and some advisers, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort in recent days has been a proponent for picking a seasoned elected official, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Pence (R) and his wife, Karen, stood outside their front door and waved goodbye to Trump as his motorcade pulled out of the governor’s driveway about 10:30 a.m.
Trump and Pence do not know each other well, but they have built a rapport in recent weeks as the deeply conservative governor and former congressman has ascended on the short list. The Indiana governor’s decades of 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 both the hard right and the Republican establishment.
As Trump visited with Pence, other prospects remained unsure of where they stood. Gingrich, who is seen as a finalist, was not aware of the Pence meeting until he saw news reports, according to a person close to Gingrich who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The person said that as of Wednesday morning, Trump had not called the former speaker about any decision having been made.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), a conservative favorite who has counseled Trump through the selection process, was also headed to Indiana on Wednesday for a meeting with Trump. A Republican close to the campaign confirmed the scheduled meeting and a CNN reporter saw Sessions board a flight to Indianapolis from Washington. In a brief interview with the network, he said he was en route to see the candidate. But the Republican said that Session was unlikely to be Trump’s choice and described him as an adviser and possible future Cabinet member.
Sessions will fly with Trump to California later Wednesday, according to a person close to Trump. Trump has fundraisers scheduled for Thursday in the Los Angeles area.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, another candidate on Trump’s short list, spent Wednesday afternoon in Washington, where he spoke at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. A Flynn adviser said that he had other promotional events and meetings in the area regarding his latest book about national security and terrorism, “The Field of Fight.” When asked whether Flynn planned to fly to Indiana, the adviser said he was unaware of any plans to do so.
Pence introduced Trump during a joint campaign rally Tuesday evening in Westfield, Ind., delivering a short but fiery speech for the real estate mogul.
“Hillary and her party have been sliding so far to Bernie’s leftist agenda, it’s hard to keep track of it,” Pence told the crowd, which cheered loudly. “To paraphrase the director of the FBI, I think it would be ‘extremely careless’ to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States.”
“Donald Trump understands the frustrations and the hopes of the American people like no other American leader in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan,” Pence said in another instance. “The American people are tired … of being told this is as good as it gets.”
Trump praised the governor during the speech and teased his decision: “I don’t know if he’s going to be your governor or your vice president, who the hell knows?” Trump said.
Pence and his wife met with Trump at one of the businessman’s New Jersey golf courses this month for a visit that was described as warm, and they had a group dinner at the Conrad Hotel on Tuesday.
Republican strategist Jeff Roe praised the possibility of Pence as someone who could add ideological balance and a temperamental contrast. “He will be the yin to his yang,” Roe said of Pence’s dynamic with Trump. Roe previously ran the primary bid of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Trump told The Washington Post earlier in the week that he plans to reveal his vice presidential pick by Friday, but aides said news of his selection could emerge earlier.
Trump and his aides have said that as the presumptive nominee has searched for a running mate, he has looked for candidates who have political experience and an ability to work with lawmakers in Washington.
In an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News on Tuesday night, Trump said that he has narrowed his list to five people and has a “pretty good idea” about whom he will select.
Trump said that his eventual pick would be one of the politicians who has been publicly discussed, and he doesn’t plan to surprise everyone with an out-of-the-blue choice.
“I’m not doing this for surprises. I’m not doing this for games,” Trump said, adding that he wants a running mate who will help him get elected and will be “good” in the position.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.