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Starting Gate: Who Will Obama Pick?

Barack Obama has vowed to keep his vice presidential selection process dignified, orderly and, most importantly, top secret. But that won't stop reporters from staking out the meetings his selection chiefs have with top Democrats, watching the movements and statements of every potential candidate and talking endlessly about it.

Yesterday we unveiled our Vice Presidential Hot Sheet to track the buzz about John McCain's potential running mates and today, we present the Democratic version of the Hot Sheet. It's not meant to be an authoritative or exhaustive list and will be updated based on media speculation, buzz, reporting and not a little bit of guesswork.

In many ways, the two presumptive nominees have different needs and criteria in making what is one of the most important decisions of their candidacies. Here's a taste of the considerations Obama may make in pondering his running mate:

A relative unknown just a year ago, Obama has burst onto the stage in a dramatic fashion, becoming a household name almost overnight. But where his name may be universal, there's still a comfort level he'll have to reach with many voters before November. He may have generated tremendous excitement and inspired many in his own party, but is the nation ready to hand over the keys to someone they've just met?

To help balance some of those concerns, Obama my want to consider someone who's already achieved a great deal in public service, an experienced and steady hand. An elder statesman, however, might run counter to his message of "change." He may look toward someone with a good deal of foreign policy or national security strength to help ease concerns that he's not yet ready to assume a world leadership role. Or, he might want someone to heal the divides caused by the primary contests or who could bring a key state or region into play.

Obviously there are many other parts of the equation, including ideology, loyalty and chemistry. And there is a vetting process that will go a long way toward whittling the list that could boost or eliminate individual candidates. That leaves us with a great, big guessing game as the process goes forward, so without further ado, here are the five candidates topping our Democratic Vice Presidential Hot Sheet.

1). Hillary Clinton: She won 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries, walloped the presumptive nominee in key states and retains the loyalty of a sizable chunk of the party. Conventional wisdom says this pairing will never happen but until that becomes crystal clear, Clinton has to remain high on the list.

2). Jim Webb: If being a Vietnam veteran, former Navy Secretary and the very face of the party's anti-war wing isn't enough, he's also from a key battleground state. Early media vetting has not been kind, however, and the Old Dominion isn't large enough to make the election all about Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.

3). Bill Richardson: The best choice if winning New Mexico and courting the Latino vote are paramount concerns. He may also have the best overall resume of anyone Obama will look at -- but his chances might be better if he had not run himself and turned in a puzzling performance.

4). Kathleen Sebelius: A rising star who suddenly has Republicans wondering what's wrong with Kansas. She's not an insider, has executive experience and bolsters the "change" theme of Obama's campaign. But could it be too much change?

5). Tom Daschle: An early and eager supporter for Obama, who appears to have forged a close relationship with the former Majority Leader. A consummate insider helps soothe concerns of inexperience but also brings a lot of insider baggage. And what happened to Obama in South Dakota?

Check the Hot Sheet for the rest of the top ten and the full list of candidates and come back often to see who's up or down and who's been added to the list -- or to vote for your choice.

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