Gov. Tim Pawlenty told WCCO radio this morning that he is going to the State Fair and not to  Dayton, Ohio, where  Republican Sen. John McCain is to announce his choice for vice president at 11 a.m.

 “I plan to be at the State Fair,” he said. “You can draw your conclusions from that.”

A conservative source told CNN's John King just after 8 a.m.  that Pawlenty had just received a call informing him that he is not McCain's pick.

The governor told the station’s Eric Eskola during a 6:25 a.m.  telephone interview:

  “All I can say is that I’m not going to be there (in Dayton).”

 However, he didn’t say directly that he is not the the nominee.

 Asked if he was disappointed, Pawlenty said:  “I’m  just happy to support Sen. McCain.” He wouldn’t speculate who McCain has picked for vice president. 

 But, he said, “I’m glad you guys will quit following me around so much because it’s been a bit distracting here in Minnesota.”

At 9 a.m., Pawlenty held  his weekly radio show at  the State Fair, opening with an interview about swine judging. He later took questions from the public..

"I slept great last night. I went to my daughter's volleyball game last night, and they won. That's great," he said. He added, "I'm honored to be considered and honored to be the governor of Minnesota."

Pawlenty came closer than any other Minnesotan since Democrat Walter Mondale ran for the White House in 1984 to becoming a member of a major party presidential ticket. Mondale also was Jimmy Carter’s  running mate in 1976, when Carter won the presidency, and in 1980, when Carter lost to Ronald Reagan. White Earth Indian activist Winona LaDuke ran for vice president on the Green Party ticket with Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000.

Associates close to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the Associated Press that the former presidential candidate had not been offered the job by McCain.

Speculation moved toward several darkhorse candidates as the morning advanced.

 CNN reported that a plane left from Anchorage, AK., carrying Gov. Sarah Palin had landed in Dayton last night leading to speculation that she is the pick.  However, later reports this morning said Palin was still in Alaska.

Besides Palin  other possibilities included former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio.

McCain decided on his choice for vice president early Thursday, but the campaign has given no hint on his selection that will be announced on his 72nd birthday. The speculation sent a buzz throughout Denver, where Democratic nominee Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination and put Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware on his ticket.

Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director, gave nothing away during an interview on CBS' "The Early Show."

"John McCain is going to make the choice from his heart. He's going to choose someone who can be a partner in governing. He's going to choose someone who brings character and principle to the table and who shares his priorities. And I'm confident that he's going to make a great pick," Hazelbaker said.

On Thursday,  the Republican vice presidential watch picked up ever-more intensity, with Pawlenty right in the middle of it.

As reports swirled that John McCain would appear with his choice for a running mate at a rally today, Pawlenty, who had been in Denver to help deliver the GOP response during the Democratic National Convention, canceled interviews Thursday and returned home.

Pawlenty long has been reported to be on McCain's short list of veep possibilities. The reports have been that McCain and his pick, whoever it turns out to be, will attend a rally today in Dayton, Ohio.

No word on McCain's selection has surfaced.

At a Thursday morning news conference in Denver, Pawlenty, who usually has demurred when asked about the vice presidency, actually took a moment to document his bona fides, pointing out that he has been governor for six years, the commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard and is a former state House majority leader, as well as having had "some other life experiences."

Pawlenty also was dismissive of the spectacle surrounding Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination.

"He gives a great teleprompter speech, but when the teleprompter gets turned off, he's not so hot," Pawlenty said.

Portending a potential campaign weakness, Pawlenty was asked about last summer's I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis and whether weaknesses in infrastructure might hurt a McCain campaign.

"I think it's fair to say the country is behind on infrastructure. I think everybody recognizes that on both sides of the aisle," Pawlenty said.

If he knew McCain's decision, Pawlenty gave nothing away when he arrived back at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday.

 "This is Senator McCain's decision and his announcement and we all want to be respectful of his desire to have the chance to announce it himself," Pawlenty told KSTP-TV. By late afternoon, journalists had gathered outside Pawlenty's private home in Eagan and at the governor's mansion in St. Paul.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636