If Sen. Barack Obama wants to head off a growing stampede by Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters to pick her for the Democratic ticket, he might not want to wait too long.
His vetting team hasn't even started an operation. However, Obama has to know already whether it is smart to choose his chief rival and often severe critic for the last six months.
If he is looking elsewhere, here are five possible running mates—all with pluses and minuses, as is the case for all No. 2 prospects:
• Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a red state turning bluer in recent years. He's hardly a party champion, but his military background is impressive.
• Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a two-term mayor of Philadelphia and two-term governor and a Clinton backer in a state Obama must carry.
• Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Hispanic with foreign policy and energy experience and a help in the West, where Democrats are doing better these days. His early backing of Obama enraged Clinton loyalists.
• Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, an early dropout in this year's presidential primaries who has credentials on foreign policy and has an important voice in strategy on Iraq.
• Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, another two-term governor in a red state. She is from a family with a Republican background. Clinton's crowd would not approve of a woman not named Hillary.
Former Gen. Wesley Clark has been mentioned, too, but he has no real history in politics and failed to get off the ground in the 2004 Democratic primaries.
All of this is a guessing game right now. However, it will be Washington's favorite parlor game in the days to come. The suspense will only grow as Senator Clinton's backers turn up the heat on Obama.