Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been awarded a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, joining at least five others at the St. Paul event who are considered potential running mates for Sen. John McCain.

Perhaps the most atypical convention speaker, and potential running mate, is Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who ran for vice president as a Democrat in 2000 and is now an independent and one of McCain's strongest supporters.

For Pawlenty, the speaking role on the climactic last night of the Sept. 1-4 convention caps months campaigning for McCain, raising his national profile and speculation about his selection as a potential vice-presidential choice.

Although he is to speak before McCain's acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination, the scheduling shed no apparent light Wednesday on his running mate prospects. While Pawlenty was listed first among four people speaking before McCain, the order of the speeches hasn't been decided, said Melissa Subbotin, a spokeswoman for the GOP convention.

Pawlenty deflected questions from reporters Wednesday about the vice presidency after an event in the governor's reception room.

Also scheduled to speak during the convention are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who battled McCain in the primaries, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Both are reported to be under consideration for McCain's ticket; Romney is to speak on Wednesday, Sept. 3, and Ridge on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

The keynote address on Sept. 2, traditionally the marquee speech, will be reserved for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Awarding the address to Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, could irk some social conservatives but please more moderate members of the GOP. Ridge and Lieberman also support abortion rights.

The vice presidential pick, whoever it is, is scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

The online website Politico.com, quoting unnamed sources, has reported that McCain plans to celebrate his 72nd birthday on Aug. 29 by naming his running mate at a huge rally in the battleground state of Ohio. The site reports that friends of the Arizona senator say he has yet to make a final decision on his pick.

Convention theme

The convention, to be held at the Xcel Energy Center, will promote a "Country First" theme, with emphasis on "service, reform, prosperity and peace," organizers said.

Subbotin said the themes "reflect the bright and prosperous future that Americans can expect under Senator McCain's leadership."

Organizers plan to use each day of the convention to focus on one of those four elements, which they say have defined McCain's life and are central to his vision for the presidency, said McCain 2008 communications director Jill Hazelbaker.

Minnesota supporters of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama were quick to react to the theme. Obama Minnesota spokesman Nick Kimball said "we have seen record job loss and a war in Iraq that has made us less secure" under President Bush, and added that McCain would continue those policies.

Speaking lineup

Besides McCain and his wife, Cindy, five current and former U.S. senators, including Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, are scheduled to speak; 10 current and former Republican governors, and two prominent businesswomen are scheduled to address convention delegates.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and First Lady Laura Bush will speak on Sept. 1, the first night.

Another person rumored to have a chance at becoming McCain's running mate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is scheduled to speak on Sept. 3.

Pawlenty is among four governors and senators scheduled to speak on Sept. 4. The others are Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who also has been mentioned as a possible running mate; Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida.

The announcement on speakers came Wednesday morning, around the time Pawlenty was in the governor's reception room signing a proclamation pledging Minnesota's commitment to fight global poverty and disease.

Afterward, he deflected questions about his vice presidential prospects or traveling to Dayton, Ohio, the reported location for McCain's Aug. 29 announcement. Pawlenty also declined to say whether he was anticipating giving a speech at the convention.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1673