Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is riding through small towns in six states on his "Every Town Counts" bus tour. As NPR's Mara Liasson reported for Morning Edition, he's focusing on areas of GOP support in the battlegrounds of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan — all states President Obama won in 2008.
But while Romney is focusing on small towns, many observers are focusing on who's joining him on the stump. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — all thought of as potential vice presidential candidates — have made appearances with Romney.
As The New York Times put it: "His caravan doubled as a series of rolling auditions, a chance for Mr. Romney and his family to measure their comfort level with a potential partner on the ticket."
On Monday, Romney stopped in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis., where the all-but-official GOP nominee predicted victory in the fall.
Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Ryan "worked up the crowd by mixing local stories with a national message."
"'We've seen tough times here. But we've also seen resurgence,' Ryan said of Janesville, his hometown, which has suffered painful job losses in the wake of the 2009 shuttering of a General Motors plant.
"He said 'America is at a crossroads' with a choice of two futures in front of us.
"'What kind of country do we want to have, what kind of people do we want to be,' he said, as a man in the crowd shouted, 'free.'"
In Ohio on Sunday, it was Portman who was by Romney's side. "In the privacy of Mr. Romney's bus, the two chatted about politics and policy as they chugged across Ohio. Mr. Portman even helped clean up some of Mr. Romney's grandchildren, who were out on the road for the day and messy from blueberry pie," The Times reports.
But it seems like Portman's presence might not have made much of a difference to the crowd.
ABC's Amy Walter reports that in Brunswick, Ohio, she overheard a man ask "if the 'gray haired' guy flipping the pancakes was Romney's son Tagg. No, replied another person in the crowd, 'that's Senator Portman.'"
She also spoke with Romney supporters at his stop in Newark, Ohio, who knew very little about Portman, who was elected to the Senate in 2010.
Whoever Romney picks, the Times reports that we might not have to wait until the GOP convention in August:
"Mr. Romney is weighing the advantages of making an announcement well before the party's nominating convention in Florida at the end of August, several Republicans said. The benefits include having a second candidate to send to fund-raising events and to respond to the Obama administration, leaving Mr. Romney more time to prepare for debates and to pace himself for the grueling fight ahead."