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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump abruptly postponed his planned announcement on Friday of his vice presidential running mate because of a deadly truck attack in France, but Republican sources said his choice was expected to be Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
Viewed as a safe pair of hands, Pence, 57, has diverging views with Trump on his proposed Muslim ban and trade, and is more socially conservative, but he could help unify a divided party behind Trump's White House bid.
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Trump was due to make his official announcement on his choice on Friday at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) in Manhattan. But he tweeted on Thursday night that the attack in Nice, where a truck slammed into a crowd, killing dozens of people, prompted him to delay.
"In light of the horrible attack in Nice, France, I have postponed tomorrow's news conference concerning my Vice Presidential announcement," said Trump. He said in a Fox News interview: "We will announce tomorrow when it will be."
Trump, who has proposed banning Muslims from "terror states" from entering the United States, said in another Fox News interview that the attack in France showed the United States and the rest of the world needed to get tougher in the fight against Islamist militants.
"This has to be dealt with very harshly," Trump said.
He told Fox News he had not made a "final, final decision" on a running mate. He heaped praise on Pence and his other two finalists, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
"I've got three people that are fantastic," he said.
Trump's advisers told national party officials that he had settled on Pence, according to two Republican sources familiar with the campaign's operations.
"I'm told he's been asked to do this and he's flying to New York," one source said. Pence was seen by TV networks arriving at a New York-area airport.
Trump, 70, a New York businessman, is to be formally nominated as the party's candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election at the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland. Traditionally, the vice presidential choice is used to build enthusiasm among party loyalists.
Trump's choice of running mate is seen as especially critical because his defeat of 16 rivals in the Republican primary race left the party divided. Some party leaders are still uneasy about some of his campaign positions and free-wheeling statements, such as his comments on Muslims and immigrants.
"Pence is Donald Trump's straight man," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. "He'll be able to defend him as well as be a cheerleader but do it in a calm, cool, collected manner that will preserve his credibility."
Gingrich, who met Trump on Wednesday, said on a Facebook Live session that he had yet to hear from Trump. He said he had told Trump that he needed to decide whether he wanted "two pirates" on the same ticket. Both men have been political mavericks.
Christie, a former rival to Trump in the presidential race, told MSNBC earlier he would be disappointed if not picked. “I'm not going to say it won't bother me if I'm not selected. Of course it bothers you a little bit."
Pence, a former congressman, is seen as a safe choice, not too flashy but popular among conservatives, with Midwestern appeal and the ability to rally more party faithful behind Trump. The businessman has never held elected office.
"He’s a good, safe, solid conservative," said Republican strategist Scott Reed.
Pence also could give a boost to Trump's campaign fundraising efforts as he challenges the well-organized effort of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Pence has strong ties to billionaire donors Charles and David Koch, including current and former staff members who have worked for them.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
But Pence is to the right of Trump on social issues, having signed restrictive abortion legislation and pushed to defund the Planned Parenthood women's healthcare organization, whose services include providing abortions. Trump has said he opposes abortion, but his views have been inconsistent, and he has said Planned Parenthood provides some valuable services.
Pence has also criticized Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims temporarily from entering the country. In 2006, he introduced immigration legislation that would let illegal immigrants apply for U.S. work visas if they left the country for a period, a plan that was criticized by some conservatives. That contrasts with Trump's strong stance on immigration, marked by his pledge to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
Pence has also voiced support for free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Trump supports free trade but says he wants to renegotiate trade deals to make them more favorable to the United States.
Pence had backed a Trump rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, in April before the Indiana primary, but he praised Trump and said he would work on behalf of the eventual Republican nominee. Trump won Indiana anyway, prompting Cruz to drop out of the race to be the party's nominee.
Pence had considered running for president himself in 2016 before deciding to run for re-election as governor. Conservatives had urged him to seek the White House, but missteps last year related to an Indiana law seen as anti-gay hurt his national profile.
This year, he was the target of a mocking social media campaign by women outraged at a law he signed creating new restrictions on abortions. Feeling that the law invaded their privacy, women responded by calling Pence's office to describe their menstrual periods or tweeting similar messages.
Pence ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice before he won election to the House of Representatives in 2000, where he was chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)