WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Mitt Romney is on vacation – but not from politics.
The Republican presidential candidate huddled Tuesday with his top advisers, including his campaign manager and the aide overseeing his vice presidential search. His top strategist was in town shooting video for new TV ads. And Romney himself was set to make his first official public appearance of the week on Wednesday, marching in this town's July Fourth parade.
Officially, the campaign says that Romney is doing what he's done for the past decade – enjoying family time during a weeklong holiday at his lakeside estate in New Hampshire. It's also a break from the campaign trail, the campaign says, a welcome chance to relax before the pre-convention push. But unofficially, the bit of down time is a chance for the contemplative Romney to consider how the campaign is going against President Barack Obama and adjust strategy as necessary in a contest that polls show is close.
Underscoring the stakes, Obama canceled his own annual summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He did, however, spend the weekend at Camp David and planned to return to Washington for the July Fourth holiday.
Behind the scenes in Wolfeboro, Romney is all but certain to be at work just as much as he is at play – and probably focused on the biggest decision he will make between now and when he accepts the GOP's presidential nomination in late August. His self-imposed deadline for picking a running mate "before the convention" is looming large and the search for a No. 2 is well under way.
His campaign is staying mum on whether that was a topic of conversation early Tuesday when he and his wife, Ann, spent at least 45 minutes talking with campaign manager Matt Rhoades, senior adviser Beth Myers and top strategist Stuart Stevens on the deck that overlooks the lawn behind his lakefront home. Romney's five sons – particularly his eldest son, Tagg – also serve as informal political advisers, and all have been on hand all week, virtually assuring that the campaign and the running mate search were discussed.
Speculation about that selection process hung heavy over this New England hamlet, among townspeople and reporters alike.
It was fueled by word that Romney planned to campaign during a parade alongside one GOP rising star for Independence Day – New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte – while another senator widely talked about as an attractive running mate – Rob Portman of Ohio – headlined a fundraiser in Concord, N.H., this weekend.
Not that all the Republicans whom GOP insiders suspect are being seriously considered planned to be in New England this week.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told The Associated Press in an email that he plans to be in Minnesota through Wednesday before he heads to Pennsylvania and Ohio to campaign on behalf of Romney and help counter Obama's bus tour. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a favorite among conservatives, was on his own bus tour through Southern states as he promotes his new book.
There's more to the political side of Romney's vacation than just the highly anticipated vice presidential pick.
While the candidate and his family haven't encouraged media coverage of their ice cream outings and sports event, they also haven't shied away from it.
That's ensured that Americans who are largely unfamiliar with the former Massachusetts governor see glossy images of the large Romney clan playing on and around sun-splashed Lake Winnipesaukee – and the usually buttoned-up patriarch clearly at ease. He's been seen – and photographed – riding on a jet ski, playing volleyball, relaxing on the beach and eating an ice cream cone at Bailey's Bubble while surrounded by more than a dozen of his 18 grandchildren.
The vacation has painted a family portrait of the Romneys that's led at least one pundit to compare them to the Kennedy clan, the American political dynasty that gathered during summers in Hyannis Port, Mass. Their athletic, photogenic family helped label President John F. Kennedy's era as "Camelot." The vacation images have also given Romney, who's fought a perception that he can't connect with ordinary voters, a chance to show an authentic lighter side.
"You all have your life jackets?" Romney asked the handful of grandchildren who crowded onto his boat Monday night after the trip to the picturesque town's ice cream store. His usually coifed hair windblown and his face tanned, Romney hopped behind the wheel of the boat and piloted it away from the dock himself.
The trip to town capped two days of family fun that featured Romney jet-skiing around the lake with Ann at the helm. He took the entire family to church on Sunday at the small, nondescript Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just up the road from his sprawling lakefront estate. Back at home, he rode his lawn mower, two of his younger grandchildren on his lap, one wearing a captain's hat.
On Tuesday, Romney and his five sons spent part of the afternoon playing volleyball – three versus three – as some of his grandchildren played on a nearby beach. And Romney was spotted at the local marina refueling his boat.
His vacation ends Sunday when he's scheduled to head to New York for fundraising events – and resume his campaign schedule fulltime.
Associated Press photographer Charles Dharapak in Wolfeboro, N.H., and Associated Press writer Brian Bakst in Minnesota contributed to this report.
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