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Cheney says he may be Bush’s pick for mate

But insiders warn the choice has not been made yet

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WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has told business associates there is a good chance he will get the job as George W. Bush's running mate, but Bush aides caution that the likely Republican presidential nominee could still make "a surprise pick."

With the GOP nominating convention in Philadelphia opening in a week, Texas Gov. Bush expects to announce his decision soon.

Cheney and former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri are on Bush's short list, said highly placed Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In seclusion at his Texas ranch, Bush tentatively planned to introduce his running mate Tuesday. Even his closest advisers said Sunday they did not know if he had made his choice.

Bush's silence on a day he had promised to decide prompted aides to caution that he could make a surprise pick. "Nobody has a lock on the job," said a senior GOP official, but Cheney was the front-runner.

Others mentioned as possible candidates include Govs. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and George Pataki of New York; Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Bill Frist and Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

But signs continued to point toward Cheney, who had led Bush's vice presidential search team and is a former Wyoming congressman, White House chief of staff under former President Ford and defense secretary under Bush's father, former President Bush.

Cheney, now chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., an energy and construction conglomerate, said there was a "good chance" he would be tapped by Bush, according to an official close to Cheney in Texas. The official said Cheney wanted to give the company a "heads up" because he had previously assured it he would not accept the nomination.

Seeking to reassure Bush —and perhaps potential voters — Cheney underwent a physical exam in recent days and received a clean bill of health, said a GOP official familiar with the deliberations. Cheney, 59, suffered three heart attacks by age 48 but has reported no health problems since.

Bush's top two strategists, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, fanned out to the Sunday TV news shows, defending Cheney against questions about his health and ties to the oil industry.

They said, however, they had no idea who would be Bush's pick.

Danforth said he doesn't expect to be chosen and predicted that Cheney will get the nod.

"I think it's Cheney. You know, with the registration change, that's what I believe," Danforth told The Associated Press as he headed into church in St. Louis.

Last week, Cheney changed his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming to avoid a constitutional hurdle if a party's presidential and vice presidential nominees come from the same state.

Cheney and Danforth both would bring a range of national experience and stature lacking in the presumptive nominee. Both also would appeal to Bush's conservative base without alienating moderates, Republican operatives say. Danforth, unlike Cheney of Wyoming, comes from a battleground state, Missouri.

Cheney left his suburban Washington home Sunday and said he was heading to Dallas, where he also has a home, because "that's where my work is."

He did not say whether he was referring to Dallas-based Halliburton or his work on Bush's vice presidential search.

"You'll have to ask somebody above my pay grade," Cheney said when asked if he would be Bush's running mate as he and his wife, Lynne, packed a black Isuzu Trooper with about 10 suitcases and duffel bags.

Cheney made the surprise voter registration switch three days after Bush met with Danforth in St. Louis. The timing suggests Cheney's stock rose after the Texas governor had met and considered the large pool of candidates reviewed under Cheney's direction.

Bush strategist Rove said Cheney's history of heart trouble wouldn't be a campaign issue.

"Those heart attacks occurred in the '70s and '80s and he then served as secretary of defense in President Bush's administration and presided over Desert Storm," Rove said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I don't know of a more stressful situation than being secretary of defense during an armed combat, and he seemed to do just fine."