On a day and night of political suspense, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden emerged as a leading contender Friday to become Barack Obama's vice presidential pick as two running mate rivals learned they had been eliminated.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine spread word he had been ruled out and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana was told he was not Obama's choice, according to party officials.
The normally loquacious Biden maintained a low profile as associates said they believed — but did not know — he would be tapped. They added they had been asked to stand by in case their help was needed.
Additionally, several associates of Obama — including some at his campaign headquarters in Chicago — said they believed Biden was the choice, though they cautioned they had not been told directly. Biden spent the day at his home in Delaware, huddled with friends and family.
Among those who made Obama's short list, Biden brought the most experience in defense or foreign policy — areas in which Obama is rated relatively poorly in the polls compared with Republican Sen. John McCain. Biden, 65, was elected to the Senate at the age of 29 in 1973.
Compounding the mystery, conservative Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas emerged — however briefly — as a contender.
Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's chances remained uncertain, although several aides said they do not believe she was in contention. They added the Obama campaign had never requested financial or other records from her, the typical first step toward a nomination.
A Democratic official close to Bill Richardson said the New Mexico governor was told he had been passed over.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius rounded out the roster of likely contenders — a list that did not take into account any surprises that Obama might harbor.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, nooooo," Sebelius told reporters who asked for her latest thoughts on the months-long search.
Three days before Democrats open their convention in Denver, officials said the Obama campaign had taken the trouble to print material bearing the names of several potential ticket mates. The result was to minimizing the significance of a report that one company was churning out signs bearing Bayh's name.
Obama told reporters on Thursday he had made his choice, and aides used the prospect of a text-message announcement to try and attract additional supporters by soliciting their cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Even that became occasion for intrigue.
Late Friday, several officials said the text message announcement would be distributed Saturday morning, a few hours before a scheduled rally at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., where the Democratic ticket would appear for the first time.
Hundreds of miles to the west, carpenters, electricians, sound stage gurus and others transformed the Pepsi Center in Denver into a made-for-television convention venue.
Tucked away in one corner were thousands of lightweight rolled cardboard tubes, ready-made handles for signs bearing the names of the Democratic ticket — once the identity of Obama's running mate was known.
Edwards, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had touted for running mate, told The Associated Press in Waco, Texas, "I have had interactions with the Obama campaign over the last several months but I will not get into details."
Kaine, a moderate governor from a swing state, boarded a private plane at a small airport for a flight to Denver — not Springfield, Ill., and the Democratic ticket.
Bayh, a second-term senator, attended tennis camp with one of his sons.
"My answer to any question about the subject that I think you're referring to is that all inquiries should be directed at Senator Obama's campaign," said Clinton, the former first lady who came close to capturing the nomination in the primaries of last winter and spring.
Despite the advice, neither Obama nor his aides were saying.
"Obviously, the most important question is: Is this person ready to be president?" Obama told "The Early Show" on CBS. Second, he said, was: "Can this person help me govern? Are they going to be an effective partner in creating the kind of economic opportunity here at home and guiding us through some dangerous waters internationally?"
And, he added: "I want somebody who is going to be able to challenge my thinking and not simply be a yes person when it comes to policymaking.
Clinton's credentials were forged in the primaries and caucuses where she ran a close second to Obama in the battle for the nomination. She maintains a loyal following among Democrats, many of whom have yet to swing behind the man who defeated her.
There was no shortage of other speculation, ranging from GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who traveled with Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan, to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, to Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
GOP running mate still in question
Several GOP officials said Friday that Arizona Sen. McCain, Obama's Republican rival, had not settled on a running mate — nor offered the job to anyone — although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were under serious consideration. It's likely McCain will wait to see who Obama selects before picking his running mate.
Officials said the campaign also was preparing for an "unconventional" nominee, an indication that oft-mentioned former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, or Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman still could be in the running. That category also could include non-politicians whom McCain deeply admires, such as Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Two officials close to Romney said he had not been offered the job. Pawlenty batted away questions Friday in a CNN interview, saying, "I'm sure he'll make a wonderful choice for our party and for our country, and we'll just have to wait until next Friday to find out the answer to those questions."
The GOP convention begins Sept. 1 in St. Paul, Minn.