Mr Dole's deliberations have taken place in the secrecy he relishes. Aides have let slip only that he is "very close" to a decision and that the final shortlist is down to three. Mr Dole is expected to make the announcement tomorrow in his home town of Russell, Kansas, two days before the nominating convention opens in San Diego.
With all hope apparently abandoned of netting either retired General Colin Powell or Christine Todd Whitman, the Governor of New Jersey, two stars who could add real excitement to the ticket, Mr Dole is reportedly concentrating on a small group led by Senators John McCain of Arizona and Connie Mack of Florida, Governor John Engler of Michigan and Carroll Campbell, the former Governor of South Carolina.
But in the last few days the names of Jack Kemp, the prominent supply- sider and former Bush Cabinet member, and Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary in the Ford administration, have also begun to feature. Both were closely involved in formulating Mr Dole's economic plan, centred on a 15 per cent across-the-board tax cut.
Whatever happens, the vice-presidential choice and the abortion issue are closely linked - if only because after the truce secured with the convention's dominant pro-life faction, Mr Dole dare not risk their ire once more by choosing a running mate like General Powell, or Ms Whitman, who explicitly favours abortion rights.
The deal reached by the platform committee on Wednesday evening is little more than a figleaf for the defeated pro-choice activists, providing merely that their unsuccessful amendments to the existing commitment to a constitutional amendment banning abortion will be published as an "appendix" to the platform. This document, destined to be forgotten as soon as the convention is over, should thus be painlessly approved by delegates on Monday evening, without the embarrassing public floorfight dreaded by the Dole camp.
The spotlight thereafter will perforce fall on the vice-presidential candidate. Each mooted contender has advantages. Mr McCain is an engaging and outspoken authority on foreign policy with a war record of gallantry to match Mr Dole's. Mr Mack is a rising star in the Senate and in a position to shore up Mr Dole's wobbly support in Florida, a key Southern State which the Republicans must win to have a chance of capturing the White House. Much the same goes for Mr Campbell.
Governor Engler meanwhile is a proven tax-cutter in Michigan, a key swing state, and a perfect salesman for the Dole economic plan - though perhaps less perfect than Mr Kemp, not only a tax-cutter but one of the most popular effective campaigners in Republican ranks.
And Mr Dole, not noted for his ability on the stump, needs all the help he can get. A New York Times poll yesterday put President Clinton ahead by 56 to 34 per cent, a lead that does not change if the Texas billionaire Ross Perot enters the fray.Reuse content