NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Al Gore narrowed his list of running mate favorites to four after meeting Sunday for nearly two hours with the head of his vice presidential search and top advisers, campaign officials said.
''Tomorrow,'' said campaign chairman William Daley, who left the meeting with Gore convinced he was still turning the names over in his head.
The list, Daley told reporters, was down to four. Knowledgeable Democratic sources said those four are Sens. Evan Bayh, 44, of Indiana, John Edwards, 47, of North Carolina, John Kerry, 56, of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman, 58, of Connecticut.
Asked if that was four names plus one - the ''wild card'' Gore has dangled teasingly - Daley replied, ''four plus a half,'' suggesting the prospects of a surprise pick had dimmed.
The discussions in Gore's hotel suite lasted just shy of two hours, including Daley, the head of Gore's search, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Gore's brother-in-law, Frank Hunger, who said there would be a family huddle with Gore's wife, Tipper, Sunday night.
Daley and Hunger said they expected Gore to sleep on any decision. ''You won't see anything happen tonight,'' said Hunger.
Christopher did not comment as he emerged from the meeting. Earlier, he told reporters, ''We're coming to the end of the road.''
Gore plans to call his running mate late Monday or Tuesday, when he's set to announce his pick in Nashville, a week before the Democratic National Convention opens in Los Angeles to nominate him and his running mate to face Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Kerry and Edwards are considered by most Gore advisers to be a cut above the rest, though that does not necessarily reflect the vice president's thinking, according to senior aides. A number of them touted Edwards' prospects, going out of their way to say his relative lack of government service would not be a problem.
The advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sunday that Lieberman and Bayh are still in contention. Two others on the short list, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, 59, and New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, 53, have said they don't want the job. Advisers say they have no reason to believe Gore, 52, will try to convince them otherwise.
Daley said Sunday that all the candidates on Gore's short list are highly qualified.
''They all have their strengths,'' he said on ABC's ''This Week.''
Daley dismissed any concern that Edwards, elected just two years ago, lacked necessary experience. Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Edwards pales in comparison to Cheney, who has worked in several administrations, including that of former President Bush.
''It's not about the resume or the pedigree,'' Daley said on CNN's Late Edition. ''It's about what people stand for, what they fight for, and what their life experiences are about.''
One of Gore's more biting arguments against Bush, however, is that his 5 years as Texas governor is insufficient experience to run the nation.
Daley praised Kerry's service in Vietnam and said he was confident that if the Massachusetts senator became Gore's running mate, Democrats would be able to win back the Senate seat in 2001.
Kerry, likely to be associated with Massachusetts liberals such as Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Gov. and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, could help Republicans paint Gore with a leftist brush.
Democrats also worry that Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, could face voter prejudice, and Bayh could strike out against abortion-rights supporters because he opposes a procedure critics call partial-birth abortion.
Daley dismissed such concerns, calling Lieberman ''highly capable'' and praising Bayh as ''one of the stars of the present and the future of the Democratic Party.''
''Al Gore believes he's a solid person who proved as governor - in a state that's highly Republican - that he could not only win, but he could govern,'' Daley said of Bayh, adding that he's a man of character.
Daley refused to drop any hints about leading contenders.
At a series of Democratic fund raisers in the Hamptons, collecting more than $1.5 million, and in church, Gore commemorated the three-decade old Voting Rights Act and called for national hate crimes legislation.
''Just as we passed the Voting Rights Act 35 years ago, so now we should pass a national hate crimes act into law to embody the principle that most all Americans share - to speak out against the kind of hatred that often erupts into violence,'' Gore said at Christ Episcopal Church.
Bush opposes such legislation, saying current laws are adequate, despite several high-profile killings, including the dragging death of a black man, James Byrd, in Bush's home state of Texas.
Without mentioning Bush's name, Gore asked at an intimate Southampton fund-raising brunch: ''How could people oppose a hate-crimes law in the year of James Byrd's death and Matthew Shepard's death or the others - the Jewish children in Los Angeles, the Hispanic and Asian-American men and women who have been singled out?''