WASHINGTON -- Leaks are springing. Trial balloons are floating. Egos are being stroked. Wannabes are auditioning. And, chances are, lies are being told.

Somewhere, amid all the shenanigans, Republican Mitt Romney is considering his choices for a running mate, one of the most significant decisions of his presidential campaign.

The secrecy that shrouds the selection of a presidential running mate has given rise to political sideshows that play out in public while the more serious search operation takes place at a largely subterranean level.

Names of new Romney short-listers emerge; others fall by the wayside.

Any kind of proximity to Romney -- or his opponent -- generates questions about GOP veep ambitions.

Why did Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire walk in a July Fourth parade with Romney? Why did Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota turn up in Ohio and Pennsylvania during President Barack Obama's Midwest bus trip? Why did Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio write a Cleveland newspaper column criticizing the president's policies just as Obama headed for the state? Comments by Romney and his team are parsed for deeper meaning.

What to make of Ann Romney's remark this past week that women are under consideration? What about Romney's earlier comment that outspoken New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "really is something?" Why did Romney pull back the veil last month to announce that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was being "thoroughly vetted" for vice president after reports to the contrary emerged?

Consultant Bob Shrum, who's worked on numerous Democratic presidential campaigns, says a closely held search operation is a good thing because it protects the people who open up their lives to the campaign to be thoroughly checked out as potential running mates.

But the lack of public information creates an opening for all sorts of political gamesmanship, including self-promotion by short-listers who aren't on the short list at all and denials by actual short-listers who feign nonchalance.

That makes it hard for voters to know what's real and what's simply for show. Which is just fine with Romney.

Romney promises to reveal his decision on a running mate before the GOP convention in late August but won't share much more.

When his wife was asked by CBS last week if she had a favorite candidate, she said: "I like to think that I have a few that I really like a lot." Romney himself would add just three words: "What she said."

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