Reed V. Hillman, a former state representative and colonel of the State Police, has emerged as a leading candidate to be Kerry Healey's running mate in this year's race for governor, campaign advisers said yesterday.
Healey campaign officials confirmed that Hillman is one of three finalists for the position, but they said no decision has been made and that an offer would be made within the next day or two. The other two finalists, according to one campaign adviser, are state Senator Scott P. Brown of Wrentham and US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan.
''She will be making her decision shortly," said Tim O'Brien, Healey's campaign manager.
Hillman said in an interview yesterday that he expected to meet with Healey in the next couple of days.
''I would be extremely flattered and excited, were she to invite me onto the ticket," he said.
If he is chosen, Hillman would signal that the Republicans aim to make a tough-on-crime message central to their campaign. Healey has devoted much of her public- and private-sector careers to criminal justice.
Hillman, 57, rose to head the State Police after more than two decades with the law enforcement agency, and he later served most of three terms in the House of Representatives. He lives in Sturbridge and could help Healey, who hails from the North Shore, capture votes in the western part of the state.
Hillman had been considered for the lieutenant governor's post before, when Acting Governor Jane Swift mounted a brief bid for governor in 2002. Swift ultimately picked Patrick Guerriero, a former state representative and mayor of Melrose, before withdrawing from the race.
Last year, Hillman was one of five candidates nominated by Governor Mitt Romney for US marshal for Massachusetts. The White House makes the final appointment, but has yet to do so.
Hillman said in the interview that he would rather be lieutenant governor. ''I would prefer partnering with Kerry Healey and making a run at the Corner Office," he said. ''I am extremely excited about the prospect of being invited onto the ticket."
Being nominated for US marshal does have one advantage in the gubernatorial race, though: Hillman has already been subjected to an extensive FBI background check.
As lieutenant governor and as a gubernatorial candidate, Healey has made criminal justice a priority. She's pushed for antigang legislation, advocated closer tracking of sex offenders, and yesterday testified in support of a bill that would require rapists to be tested for HIV.
Before being elected alongside Romney in 2002, Healey worked eight years for Abt Associates Inc. in Cambridge, handling criminal justice research and reports and consulting with the National Institute of Justice.
Asked what his areas of concentration would be if he were elected lieutenant governor, Hillman named public safety, homeland security, and disaster preparedness. He said he was concerned about the environment and would work on that issue at the State House.
Hillman has positions similar to Healey's on several hot-button social issues. He said he supports a woman's right to choose abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy and supports civil unions for same-sex couples.
He described Healey as an ''extraordinary woman."
''She's extremely bright, but she listens to people," he said. ''She's someone who believes in getting a lot of input before making a decision," he said.
Hillman was appointed by Governor William Weld to lead the State Police in 1996. Hillman left in 1999 to run for the House, serving through 2004. A native of Newton, he has been married for 27 years and has two children, ages 23 and 24.
On the other side of the aisle, four Democrats are vying for lieutenant governor: Mayor Tim Murray of Worcester; Deborah Goldberg, a former Brookline selectwoman whose family founded Stop & Shop; Andrea Silbert of Harwich, the cofounder of a nonprofit training center for entrepreneurs; and a Cohasset psychiatrist, Sam Kelley.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and Deval L. Patrick, a former US civil rights prosecutor and corporate executive, have not aligned with any of them.
Frank Phillips of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Scott Helman can be reached at email@example.com.