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SCOT LEHIGH | WEB EXCLUSIVE

Angling for vice president

NOW COMES the great vice presidential flirtation.

This is a tricky period for those hoping to be chosen as John Kerry's number two.

Here's the problem. Acting interested is seen as distinctly unbecoming.

Now, to the uninitiated, that may seem a little confusing.

After all, according to the unwritten rules of American politics, it is perfectly acceptable for each and every governor or senator to think he'd make an extraordinary president. But vice president? Why, to suggest you might possibly be vice presidential timber is considered the very height of hubris, the apogee of egotism, the peak of pomposity, the ... well, you get the idea.

Senator X says he's confident he's qualified to break the occasional tie in the Senate? To represent the United States when foreign leaders shuffle off this mortal coil? To lead the applause when the president gives his State of the Union speech?

Who, exactly, does he think he is?

So here's one basic rule: Treat the VP search like the senior prom. Even if you're dying to be asked, to be a desirable choice, you can't appear overeager. Which means you have to act indifferent, but not quite aloof.

There are several ways to go about it. One is to pretend the question is as remote as the prospect of a colony on Pluto. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida adopted this stratagem during a recent TV appearance. Asked if he would like to run with Kerry, Nelson insisted the VP decision lay too far in the future even to speculate about.

And one can certainly see what he means. After all, the Democratic convention is in July. If people could think that far ahead, why would convenience stores sell umbrellas?

Another approach is to cast the idea of accepting a spot on the ticket as something too onerous to contemplate were it not for one's deep and enduring dedication to party. That's the line Florida's other senator, Bob Graham, is taking.

Oft passed over for the number two spot in the past, Graham spent long months last year waging a campaign most everyone saw as a way of raising his profile as a possible VP choice.

So what does he have to say about it these days?

“I will do anything within reason -- I will not sacrifice one of my grandchildren -- to help John Kerry get elected,” the senator said.

Another practiced technique is to suddenly find a way to make yourself noticeable -- even as you feign a complete lack of interest in the number two spot. Thus Hillary Rodham Clinton popped into the news last week with a big speech on trade and jobs -- and then went on CNN to hold forth on those issues.   Continued...

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