BY KASIE HUNT, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- Mitt Romney is taking a break from vacationing at his lakeside estate to march in the local Independence Day parade - and to see and be seen by the news media as well as potential voters.
Romney and his family will parade through the center of this New England hamlet on Wednesday morning, their only official public appearance during a weeklong family break from the campaign trail.
It won't be the first time Romney has been spotted around Wolfeboro since he arrived last weekend. His whole family - now numbering 30 in all - has gathered at their lakeside estate for the annual family vacation. And even though the family patriarch is now running against President Barack Obama, they stuck to many of their normal routines: attending church, grabbing ice cream in town and boating on the lake.
Still, the vacation hasn't been all fun and games for the likely Republican presidential nominee. Romney 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.
Officially, the campaign says the week's focus is the family time and a welcome chance to relax before the campaign push leading up to the August GOP convention. But unofficially, the bit of down time is a chance for the contemplative Romney to consider how the campaign is going 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 ensuring that the campaign and the running mate search were discussed.
And 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 meant 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.
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.