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Clinton closes in on VP choice: Kaine and Vilsack leading the way

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(CNN) -

Hillary Clinton is spending two days at home in New York, finalizing her decision for a running mate, before formally introducing her Democratic ticket during a weekend campaign swing in Florida, according to several Democrats familiar with the search.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have emerged as leading contenders after a rigorous vetting process, Democrats close to the selection believe, but they are not the only two prospects still in contention.

"The conventional wisdom in this case seems likely to be right," one Democrat close to Clinton told CNN, believing Kaine has the upper hand but cautioning that Clinton could still deliver a surprise.

Clinton has not made her final decision, an aide said, or if she has, she has not disclosed it. Even the small universe of advisers working on the selection process, who are making plans to help on the announcement, are not certain who she will choose.

She has consulted many people for thoughts and advice, including President Barack Obama, who is close to Kaine and Vilsack, who serves in his Cabinet.

The deliberations, led by campaign chairman John Podesta, have been extraordinarily private -- a striking contrast to those of Donald Trump. But Democrats say former President Bill Clinton also has been involved in discussions and is impressed by Kaine, who has the support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally.

"He gets a say, but doesn't have a vote on this," one Clinton friend said of the former president.

Several Democratic senators, donors and people close to the campaign who have spoken to Clinton say she is aware of the criticism that neither Kaine nor Vilsack is seen as a particularly flashy or exciting candidate. She also has considered Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown, in addition to others.

"I love that about him," Clinton told CBS' Charlie Rose Monday night, when asked about Kaine being too boring, something the Virginia senator has joked about. "He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator and is one of the most highly respected senators I know."

Clinton praised several candidates, saying she has the "blessing of having some excellent choices."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who Clinton also met with on Friday, is still in discussion as well, but would be a "stunning surprise," in the words of one Democrat close to the process.

The location of Florida leads many to believe it would be an ideal place to unveil Kaine, who speaks fluent Spanish.

"I expect that's about right," Karen Finney, Clinton spokeswoman told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday when asked if the event would be on Friday in Florida. Clinton aides, however, insist that the announcement date -- much like Clinton's pick -- is not firmly scheduled. The ticket's first joint appearance is expected to be Friday in Tampa or Saturday in Miami.

Clinton aides, who were far from open about the vice presidential process, have grown even more tight about information after watching how Trump's vice presidential roll out played out. Laughing at times from their Brooklyn headquarters, Clinton's top aides pledged to avoid leaks and embarrassing stories that plagued Trump's announcement of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

What Pence did provide the Clinton campaign is more freedom to pick someone who doesn't solidify a demographic base. Should Trump have picked a woman or a black or Latino vice presidential candidate, Clinton aides thought they would have to match Trump's pick to respond. But with Trump picking Pence, a well-liked establishment figure, aides feel they have more leeway to pick a more run-of-the-mill candidate.

Clinton has demanded a secretive selection process, even as she has campaigned alongside Kaine, Warren and other contenders in plain sight.

"Kaine would be best, but you know the Clintons," one top Democrat said. "They may do something more calculating."

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