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Bush Woos Powell For VP Slot

Is a big surprise in the works in the GOP Veepstakes? CBS News Anchor Dan Rather has learned that George W. Bush and his father, former President Bush, are in "deep negotiations" with Colin Powell, trying to convince the Gulf War hero to accept the number two spot on the Republican ticket.

Powell has repeatedly said he is not interested in the job, due in part to his wife Alma's reluctance to have him run. But the sources tell Rather she has given her permission and if he wants to run she would not be opposed to it.

But Powell's office has denied that have been any talks between the retired general and the Texas governor regarding the vice presidency.

"There is absolutely no substance to Mr. Rather's report. Gen. Powell's position remains unchanged. There have been no conversations of the kind suggested by Mr. Rather," Powell's office said in a statement.

The sources stress that while no deal with Powell still has been struck, the discussions have intensified over the past 48 hours.

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who's also heading the GOP's VP search team, remains the top choice if Powell changes his mind and decides to accept the nomination.

Powell, 63, who has a longstanding relationship with former President Bush, has recently expressed a willingness to consider a Cabinet position, but has never before hinted at an interest in the vice presidency.

The selection of Powell, an enormously popular figure with strong bipartisan appeal, could change the election dynamics overnight. He would be the first African American ever on a major party ticket. Powell is currently serving as chairman of America's Promise, a nonprofit organization that helps the nation's young people.

Over the weekend, Cheney, now CEO of Halliburton Co., an energy and construction conglomerate, said there was a "good chance" he would be tapped by Bush, according to a company official in Texas. The official said Cheney wanted to give the company a "heads up" because he had previously assured it he would not accept the nomination.

Last week, Cheney changed his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming to avoid a potential constitutional hurdle. Cheney's registration switch is designed to avoid conflict with the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars the presidential electors from casting Electoral College votes for a president and vice president who are "inhabitants" of the same state.

The Associated Press also reported Cheney, who had suffered three mild heart attacks and had bypass surgery in 1988, had a physical examination in recent days and received a clean bill of health. But health concerns of vice presidents usually don't play a major part in presidential campaigns, Craig Crawford, editor-in-chief of the online daily journal The Hotline, told CBS News' The Early Show.

"He helped run the Gulf War," Crawford said of the 59-year-old Cheney, who hs had reported no health problems since his third heart attack at age 48. "I don't think Bush would lose votes because of that."

Some Republicans, however, said Cheney's voting record during his years as a congressman might be too conservative to fit with Bush.

Others mentioned as possible candidates include Govs. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and George Pataki of New York; Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Bill Frist and Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

A campaign by at least 60 House lawmakers to get Arizona Sen. John McCain, Bush's GOP primary rival, on the ticket appears to be fizzling. Bush advisers say he has shown no inclination toward selecting his vanquished rival, and the lobbying effort is viewed as an unwelcome distraction.

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