When he sat down with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in a Chicago hotel suite on July 18, former Missouri Senator John Danforth assumed he was the only one in the room being considered for Vice President. After the intense three-hour meeting ended, Danforth came away thinking he might be offered the job. It never occurred to him that Cheney, the man in charge of Bush's selection process, was also his competition. "Cheney flew [me] up to Chicago," Danforth recalled last week. "I took that to mean Cheney had declined it."
In fact, by then Bush not only knew he wanted Cheney to be his Vice President; he also knew Cheney, his father's Secretary of Defense, would say yes. But that was information neither man shared with Danforth. He and 10 other would-be running mates had laid themselves bare before Cheney and his vetting team. They enlisted accountants, lawyers and doctors to look over their lives. They answered touchy questions probing for criminal records, past drug use and illicit affairs. Some of them, like New York Governor George Pataki, were summoned to private interviews. The process was so laborious that Senator Chuck Hagel needed a full two weeks. When Congressman John Kasich was finished, he couldn't close the flaps on the packing box he had filled.
But no matter how sharp their answers or how earnestly they stared into the candidate's eyes, the other hopefuls didn't have what Dick Cheney had: a spot in George W. Bush's comfort zone. To be sure, Bush wanted a running mate who was ready to be President. But just as important was a partner who would be loyal--someone, as Bush said more than once, "who likes me."
Which is why Cheney had such an unfair advantage. Unlike him, the others hadn't been on the phone constantly with the candidate for three months, sharing confidences, offering advice and proving their worthiness. They hadn't visited Bush in the Governor's Mansion and out at Dubya's new ranch near Waco, where the two had sat on the porch, taking in the endless view of the central Texas desert. And they had never bonded, as Bush and Cheney had, over their love of the West's open spaces, their shared conservative philosophy and their experiences in the oil business. No wonder it didn't take long for Bush to agree with what his father had told him more than once: that Dick Cheney was not just a "good man" but also a great choice for Vice President.
The way Bush made the biggest decision of his campaign so far says a lot about how he operates. By picking Cheney, he showed he was aware enough of his weaknesses--his lack of patina, his light resume--but confident enough to pair himself with someone who has brainpower and Washington credentials. Taking the arm of an experienced elder is something he learned to do in Texas when, as a neophyte Governor in 1995, he apprenticed himself to Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, the late master of Lone Star politics. Bush is doing the same with Cheney, 59, who, although just five years his senior, was already White House chief of staff when the G.O.P. nominee was still drifting through his "nomadic years" in Texas.