WASHINGTON - Al Gore said Tuesday he has narrowed his running-mate possibilities to ''what you would call a short list,'' while aides and analysts agreed Republican George W. Bush's choice of Dick Cheney shouldn't cramp the Democrat's decision.
Much speculation has focused on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former Senate leader George Mitchell. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa emerged Tuesday as a candidate after meeting with a top Gore adviser.
But Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani said, ''Anyone who is telling you about Gore's thinking on this is blowing smoke to a certain degree.'' He said Gore was keeping his thinking private, even from some close advisers.
With Bush's choice announced, more of the attention will now turn to the vice president's pick.
Heightening that interest, Gore met with former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is heading his selection process. But Gore said he was determined to make it ''a very private and dignified'' effort that he said would offer a contrast with Bush's.
''We're getting down to what you would call a short list, but we still have some work to do,'' said Gore.
Some Republicans who had been mentioned for Bush might have had the potential for shaking up the race. But no Democratic options were closed by the selection of Cheney, they said.
''It doesn't corner Gore,'' agreed George Washington University political science professor Christopher Deering.
In making his decision, Gore could try to counter the experience of Cheney, and that could point toward Mitchell, who has worked on peace talks in Northern Ireland and has had other high-profile assignments in addition to his Senate service.
Working in Graham's favor is his big home state of Florida.
''If you force the Republicans to spend a great deal of time and energy in Florida, it has payoffs elsewhere,'' said Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
Kerry was also getting attention with his war-hero record in Vietnam and ties to the most prominent and wealthy families in the country.
Gore aides telephoned reporters Tuesday to make sure they were aware that Kerry was playing host to Gore in Georgetown for a fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee.
Also in the mix is House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, whose close ties to labor make him valuable. He has said he doesn't want to be asked.
Gephardt's reluctance has raise the stock of Harkin, also a strong ally of labor, according to a Democratic official who confirmed that the Iowan met Tuesday with Christopher.
In addition, California Gov. Gray Davis said Tuesday he had spoken with Gore's selection team but declined to say whether he was approached as a prospect. The Democratic governor reiterated that he would not accept the spot if Gore offered it.
''I believe the best way I can contribute to his victory is to remain in California, fulfill my pledge to serve a four-year term and to be a strong spokesman and advocate for his cause as I have been for this past year and 15 months, or whatever it's been,'' he said.
The contenders have minuses as well as pluses.
There have been reports that Mitchell's relationship with Gore is frosty with tensions dating back to when both were in the Senate. In Kerry's case, some argue that Republicans would have a field day attacking a running mate from a liberal state.
''A moderate Massachusetts Democrat is an oxymoron,'' said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.
While Graham is a Southern moderate, there are questions as to whether he could actually bring Florida into the Democratic column.
For his part, Gore was saying only that he wanted to pick the best candidate and to do so in a dignified manner.
''I'll tell you what I'm looking for is someone who can become president on a moment's notice should that become necessary, someone with whom I can have a great relationship and someone who shares my values,'' said Gore.
Gore and his aides scoffed at what they suggested was a high-profile search by Bush.
''Only one person is going to be picked and the others are not going to be,'' said Gore. ''I want the others who are not picked to feel respected and well-treated in the process.''
Still, Gore aides assembled reporters at the vice presidential residence for a photo session with Gore and Christopher.
''The anticipation is you guys were going to ask us a million questions today about where we were in the process,'' said spokesman Chris Lehane.