Yee-haw! In GOP Veepstakes, It's the Last Roundup

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George W. Bush must have been pleased with himself Sunday as he sat in his ranch with the doors closed, the chattering classes voluble but unconfident, and in real suspense. The man who puts a premium on loyalty (or fealty) has also put a premium on control — control of the pace and pitch of information, and thus of speculation, surrounding his vice-presidential choice. And in waiting not for a mere announcement or a leak to be confirmed (that would seem spinnish, and besides that comes later) but for The Man to Decide, we are supposed to think of this man as presidential, or at least someone who runs a tight ship, like the good old days.

Buy it, or don't. But in the meantime the chatterers' consensus has narrowed the field down to three: John Danforth, Dick Cheney and The Surprise.

Dick Cheney: The "Take a letter, Maria" choice

Bush falls in love with his secretary, appointing Cheney to find him a mate and discovering his true love was right there all along. Loyalty, compatibility, competence — Cheney's got them all, along with three past heart attacks and a profile that's somehow more chief of staff than veep. Cheney changed his residency back to Wyoming from Texas to make himself officially available (that pesky 12th Amendment), but his selection would definitely signal a very old-school, very tight-knit, very Texan administration. But that may be the kind of show Bush wants to run.

John Danforth: The gravitas choice

Danforth is an old Boy Scout with integrity to spare, a pro-life Episcopal minister five years from the fray but still popular and respected enough to get tapped by Reno to sort through the Waco mess. He gives Bush intellectual weight for his ticket, and is dignified enough to have begged out of this game early and reentered it gracefully (by winding up his Waco probe in prompt fashion, which is impressive enough in itself). He's got quiet, stately, non-stage-stealing veep written all over him. He could also lock down Missouri, which hasn't backed a loser since 1960.

The Surprises:

It's time to let go of Powell and McCain — both men make Bush look like a beggar. But if Bush is confident enough to play it dull, maybe he's cocky enough to taunt his father's ghosts and pull a fast one on the press. Not ideologically dangerous prospects like pro-choicers Pataki and Ridge, or personally dangerous ones like swinging single Fred Thompson. But there are dark horses still.

Liddy Dole gets eyebrows moving but is in no danger of overshadowing Bush — but methinks Bush wants a buddy, not a fembot. Frank Keating wasn't a dark horse until he told us he was; too safe to be a surprise. Chuck Hagel has got foreign policy cred and independent cred, but it's doubtful Bush wants anybody who's on John McCain's speed-dial. That leaves John Kasich, the House budget guru and rock 'n' roller who has been written off as too young for a ticket short on presidential experience. But try this:

Gore isn't after Bush on foreign policy — rather, how to spend the surplus and caretake the boom could be the national issue of the rest of the election. In Kasich Bush gets the resident GOP expert with the number-crunching skills to make Bush's tax cuts and spending plans look as responsible as Gore's, if indeed anybody can pull that off. The Ohioan can also help in the Rust Belt, but Bush doesn't even have to spin it that way. He's always said how much he liked Al Gore as loyal-clone veep choice: If he's so confident about 2000, why not stand up in Philly and tell the world he's already tapped his 2008 successor? Voters might like looking ahead instead of feeling like they've got no other alternative to more Clinton/Gore than more Reagan/Bush.