McCain urged by his rival to join the Bush ticket

Race to be Republican running mate thrown open
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The Independent US

George W Bush, the Republican candidate for the United States presidency, is expected to make a decision on his running mate this weekend.

George W Bush, the Republican candidate for the United States presidency, is expected to make a decision on his running mate this weekend.

A last-minute flurry of speculation has built up that he may choose John McCain, the senator against whom he fought a bitter and sometimes nasty primary campaign. But Mr Bush seems much more likely to go for a more low-key, predictable man as his vice-president.

Tom Ridge, the Governor of Pennsylvania, had long been considered one of the frontrunners for the job. A wellregarded figure in the party and a Vietnam veteran, he also represents a state that will be vital for the Republicans in November's presidential election. But Mr Ridge, though a Catholic, is in favour of abortion rights. That is the most divisive issue in the Republican Party.

Mr Ridge, apparently in the belief that he is unlikely to make the slate himself, called Mr McCain this week to urge him to join Mr Bush if asked. Mr McCain, an independent-minded and sometimes volatile character, had said repeatedly that he would not run as number two. He and Mr Bush had clearly come to loathe each other during the primary campaign, when Mr Bush's associates had sought to taint Mr McCain's personal record, and he had attacked Mr Bush.

Leaks have flooded out this week from the Republicans that Mr McCain's icy disregard for the job was thawing. He told Mr Ridge that he was open to the possibility, they said. "You know me, Tommy. If the governor asked me, you know I would serve. I would prefer not to, but I'll serve," Mr McCain reportedly said.

"I can confirm that Senator McCain had a conversation with Governor Ridge at Governor Ridge's instigation, where Senator McCain said he did not think he was going to be asked, did not want to be asked, but if he were asked, he would serve," a source close to Mr McCain told the Associated Press.

If he has had a change of heart, however, Mr Bush has apparently not. Mr Ridge told a senior Bush adviser about his conversation, but he got a "cool reception", news agencies reported. Mr Bush's main criteria, he has said pointedly, is: "Can a person be the president and can we get along? And can the person be added value? In other words, can we work together?"

"It's hypothetical because I don't believe I'm in the process,'' said Mr McCain. "But if Governor Bush called I'd certainly like to talk to him about the weather and how things are going and how good a campaign he's running."

Former Defence Secretary Dick Cheney is managing Mr Bush's hunt for a running mate, and he has asked a series of contenders to be on the end of a phone this weekend. Among the numbers he has written in his little black book are Mr McCain's and Mr Ridge's; that may be a matter of political courtesy rather than a shortlist.

Other candidates are thought more likely. One front-runner is Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, a former FBI agent and an anti-abortion Catholic. Others include New York Governor George Pataki, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, Ohio Congressman John Kasich, and Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. One intriguing possibility is that Mr Cheney may not have to make the call at all: it could be him who is chosen.

The Republican National Convention, where the candidates for president and vice-president are anointed, will be held in Philadelphia in 10 days.

Mr Bush is now in a race to establish his candidacy within the party, and to get the "bounce" that will project him into the post-convention race.

The election itself will be very close, the latest opinion polls suggest. Mr Bush is ahead of Al Gore, his Democratic opponent, but an analysis of each state shows that the contest is narrower than the raw numbers suggest.

"At a first glance of the electoral map, opinion polls show Mr Bush is leading in enough states to assure him an electoral college victory," said The New York Times. "But in many of those states, the governor's margin is quite slim."

Mr Bush is ahead, but his support is relatively weak in Ohio, Missouri and even Florida, and if he loses these, his share of the vote plummets.

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