By Joseph Ax and Trevor Hunnicutt
(Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to interview the finalists to be his running mate in the coming days, according to a person familiar with the process, as allies of the top contenders redoubled their efforts to push Biden toward their favored choice.
The announcement is not likely to come next week, according to two other people familiar with the matter. Biden and his vice presidential selection will formally accept the party's nomination at the Democrats' national convention, scheduled for Aug. 17-20, and he is expected to announce his pick before it begins.
U.S. Representative Karen Bass, a Black lawmaker from California who was not seen as a candidate early on, has risen to the top tier alongside two other Black women, Senator Kamala Harris and former national security adviser Susan Rice, according to Democratic officials and Biden allies.
A half dozen other women also remain under consideration, including senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Representative Val Demings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
A campaign spokesman declined to comment on the search.
Biden's choice, the most weighty of his political career, has drawn an unusual amount of attention given his age. If he defeats Republican President Donald Trump in November's election, he would be 78 on inauguration day next January, the oldest U.S. president in history, and it is possible he may only seek one four-year term.
Supporters of each candidate have privately lobbied Biden. Just this week, more than a dozen California officials, labor leaders and business officials spoke with the people leading Biden's vetting committee to back Harris, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The call was set up by the state's lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, after she saw reports questioning whether Harris' presidential ambitions made her less suited for the No. 2 role.
Harris, for her part, used a Friday appearance at Black Girls 2020, an online conference for young Black women, to seemingly push back against that complaint, which some critics saw as misogynistic.
"There will be resistance to your ambition," she said. "But don't you let that burden you."
The controversy prompted Biden's campaign manager, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, to write on Twitter this week, "Ambitious women make history, change the world, and win."
Biden himself was prepared to defend Harris at a campaign event on Tuesday, where a photograph captured a notecard in his hand listing talking points praising her talents.
Bass has emerged as an alternative to her fellow Californian Harris, which has led to numerous comparisons between the two.
In an interview on "The Breakfast Club" radio show on Friday, Bass expressed frustration at that trend.
"Why don't you compare Whitmer with Warren?" she said. Both Whitmer and Warren are white.
In a preview of the intense scrutiny that awaits Biden's eventual pick, Bass was the subject of numerous news stories on Friday noting her rising prospects.
While some highlighted her popularity among party leaders, others focused on her 2016 comments about the late Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro, which some critics felt were too respectful, and her visits to Cuba in the 1970s with a leftist group to build homes.
Bass has said she would not use the same words again today.
A top donor to Harris's erstwhile presidential campaign, who spoke anonymously to discuss the issue candidly, said Bass' history could be a problem for Biden in Florida, where Cuban-Americans are a key demographic, and suggested Trump would seek to exploit it.
Rice, meanwhile, was seen to have acquitted herself well during television appearances in recent days despite having little experience of retail politics, and her time in the White House with Biden is an advantage for a candidate who values personal relationships, according to one Biden ally.
In a televised interview on Wednesday, Rice castigated Trump for failing to question Russian President Vladimir Putin about reports that Moscow paid bounties for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Warren hosted a grassroots fundraiser with Biden on Friday that raised over $1.7 million from more than 50,000 people, a reminder of her strong small-dollar fundraising prowess.
"America is crying out for leadership," she said. "What has Donald Trump done in response? He's ignored science, he's fanned the flames of racism and he has employed tactics from the playbooks of fascists and dictators."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Jim Oliphant; Editing by Daniel Wallis)