Swing states make Edwards favourite to partner Kerry

John Edwards' chances of being selected as the vice-presidential running mate to John Kerry have been boosted in recent weeks by polls that show the former southern senator would provide a vital boost in key "swing" states.

John Edwards' chances of being selected as the vice-presidential running mate to John Kerry have been boosted in recent weeks by polls that show the former southern senator would provide a vital boost in key "swing" states.

Reports suggest Mr Kerry has been frantically phoning his friends and advisers to review his options as the deadline for selecting a candidate looms ever nearer. With the decision due to be announced early next month, aides of Mr Kerry say he feels he must pick someone considered a moderate in order to bolster the party's centrist credentials against attacks from Republicans.

Some believe that Mr Kerry would ideally like to select the Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, who himself campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year. On Wednesday Mr Kerry held a 90-minute meeting with Mr Gephardt on Capitol Hill, which some aides said amounted to a job interview.

"I will do what I am asked to do," Mr Gephardt later told reporters. "If John Kerry wants me to do something, including vice president, I will do it.

"But I'm very happy to be do something else. My life is not all focused on government and public service."

Party strategists are aware however, that many prospective voters find Mr Gephardt deeply unexciting. It may be that Mr Kerry is going out of his way to flatter Mr Gephardt, while not selecting him, in order to ensure his support in his home state - a vital election battleground.

A report in The Washington Post yesterday quoted sources close to Mr Kerry's campaign who said a series of polls showed that Mr Edwards was the candidate most likely to attract swing voters. An effective and likeable campaigner, Mr Edwards' chances are said to have increased as Mr Kerry has postponed his decision. "The delay ... has helped Edwards," said one source.

Mr Kerry has remained tight-lipped about his decision, which the Democrats plan to announce with much fanfare in order to generate as much publicity ahead of the party's convention in Boston. "I'm the only person who knows when I will [make an announcement] or what ... direction that might take. I intend to keep it that way," he said this week.

The Massachusetts senator has told friends that his running mate must be someone he can get on with. He also said that whoever is selected must have the "ability to fill in as President if something terrible were to happen".

In the past Mr Kerry has expressed doubts about Mr Edwards' capabilities in this respect.

But it may be that whatever doubts Mr Kerry may harbour about Mr Edwards - the two are said to be respectful of each other, rather than friendly - the Democratic bureaucracy has already decided on Mr Edwards as the "betting favourite" most likely to boost the party's chances of victory in November.

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