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Sen. John McCain has decided on his running mate, two Republican strategists in contact with McCain’s campaign said Wednesday. He is expected to reveal his choice at a rally at a basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio, at 11 a.m. on Friday.

McCain’s decision is known only to his small inner circle of advisers, no more than three or four people, who have refused all public discussion on the matter. Republicans close to the campaign said that the top contenders remained the same three men who have been the source of speculation for weeks: former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and, possibly, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut.

It was unclear how seriously McCain was considering his good friend, Lieberman, who favors abortion rights and whose selection could set off a revolt among delegates at the Republican National Convention next week in Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as a furious backlash among Christian conservatives, a crucial voting bloc of the Republican Party. But as recently as Tuesday, McCain was said to still be entertaining the idea of Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000.

Under this scenario, McCain’s choice of Lieberman would help him appeal to women, independents and conservative Democrats in a tough year for Republican candidates. “It’s really alive in McCain’s mind,” said one Republican consultant familiar with some of the campaign’s deliberations.

Other Republicans said they suspected that whatever McCain’s personal views, his aides could be pushing Lieberman with reporters as part of a disinformation campaign to stir interest in the selection and to make it appear as if McCain, a longtime opponent of abortion, was open to all possibilities and was therefore more of an independent candidate.

Some Republicans also said that Lieberman did not catch fire as a campaigner in 2000 and that he would alienate more voters, particularly evangelicals, than he would attract.

McCain’s inner circle was described as divided on the choices, although one Republican close to the campaign said that there had been no raging internal debate. Whatever the aides’ opinions, McCain was said to have made the decision on his own.