WASHINGTON -- Mentioning someone as a possible running mate is a way for presidential candidates to curry favor, as George W. Bush routinely does when asked about the prospects of various politicians in his party. "Sure, I'll consider (fill in the blank)," he says. Expanding the list of names under consideration is a time-honored method of winning friends and influencing people.

The Republicans hold their convention first, so Vice President Gore has the luxury of waiting to see who Bush chooses before he settles on anyone. Gore has former Secretary of State Warren Christopher heading his search team.Bush has a variety of credible choices, beginning with dream candidate Colin Powell. Privately, Democrats say they might as well call off the election if Bush can persuade Powell to join the ticket. But Powell has said no, repeatedly and emphatically, and should be taken at his word.

The name that shows up on most GOP wish lists is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a progressive chief executive who shores up Bush where he is weak and strengthens Bush's claim that he is a different kind of Republican. Ridge is a Vietnam veteran, a Catholic and a defender of abortion rights.

If Bush wants to reach out to women voters, Elizabeth Dole is the safe choice.

Vice presidents are rarely decisive in the outcome of the election. But for Bush, who goes first, this will be an important glimpse into how he decides and whether he possesses the judgment the country expects in a future president.

Political correspondent Eleanor Clift contributed to this report. United Feature Syndicate Inc.