Let's Check Into the Vice-Presidential Chess Match

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Bush, pawn to king's rook 4: "I'm not telling you," he told reporters in Pittsburgh clamoring to hear about Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge's chances. Bush, pointing to his dad's 1992 leak-fest, is keeping the lid on until he announces. With the GOP convention kicking off first, on July 31, George W. is playing with the white pieces and keeping mum.

Gore, pawn to queen's bishop 4: Staffers tell the Washington Post that Dick Gephardt is in the running to be running mate. Doubtful, with House Dems moaning and Bushies salivating at an unoccupied center, but the suspense perks up labor leaders everywhere until a real choice gets made. Interesting.

Bush, pawn to queen's knight 3: Bush staffers tell party leaders to expect a 10-point post-convention "bounce" in the polls for the neglected Gore, with only a five-point bounce for their guy coming out of Philly. Nice expectations management from the front-runner.

Gore, pawn to queen's rook 4: Democratic party officials float a new Gore tactic to USA Today and the New York Times, a move in itself. The scenarios:

The tactic: Announce his veep choice right on the heels of the GOP convention, thereby siphoning off media coverage from the newly anointed Bush ticket. This has the advantage of deflating some of the Bush "bounce," but couldn't be good for Gore's own convention 10 days later, which would then be even more excitement-challenged than it is already. Good-bye 10-point bounce — or is that just what Bush wants him to think?

The alternative: Stick with tradition and make his pick in the week before Los Angeles on August 14, alone with the headlines. If there's a bounce to be had, that's a sure way to maximize it. The GOP deflator strategy doesn't give Gore much time to react, if a countering pick — geographical, demographic or otherwise — is what he thinks he needs. And he won't be able to decide even that, of course, until Bush makes his choice. Which is why Bush ain't talking.

Early advantage: Bush. Tough to have the black pieces in a game like this. Especially when the other guy is making all the right moves.