Who will stand by Ronald Reagan Thursday night when the GOP Presidential candidate and his running mate clasp hands and acknowledge the nomination of the delegates?
Will it be primary campaign arch-rival, George Bush? Or maybe a moderate, well-known senator like Howard Baker? Or how about a dark horse, say Minnesota Gov. Albert Quie?
Last-minute leaks to the press -- with insiders attempting to slant the choice for vice-president one way or another -- have gotten so common as to cancel one another out in providing clues to Mr. Reagan's thinking.
But in effect Mr. Reagan has painted his own spectrum of choices by asking eight prominent Republicans to supply personal and political data about themselves.
The official list serves two purposes, Reagan insiders say. First, it represents a king of rainbow of talent, meant to assure GOP faithful that they are important, and telegraph to independents and Democrats that Mr. Reagan will pragmatically compensate for his lack of Washington experience.
Second, it is intended as a serious talent list for the vice-presidential choice itself, inviting any negatives about the contenders to surface in time to save Mr. Reagan from embarrassment.
Five are considered moderates: former UN Ambassador George Bush, Sens. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Rep. Guy Vander jagt of Michigan, and former Nixon-Ford aide Donald Rumsfeld.
Three are seen as closer to Mr. Reagan in their conservatism: Sen Paul Laxalt of Nevada, former Treasury Secretary and Wall Street businessman William Simon, and Rep. Jack F. Kemp of New York.
With their official list in hand, analysts here are assesssing their political positives and negatives of the known contenders.
Geographically, only one prospect -- Senator Laxalt -- is from the West, Mr. Reagan's home base. Five are stretched across the industrial crescent of states from illinois to the East Coast, where Mr. Reagan must win to gain the White House. Mr. Rumsfeld is a Chicago businessman; Senator Lugar a former Indianapolis mayor; Congressman Vander Jagt is from former President Ford's Michigan Territory; Congressman Kemp is from Buffalo, and Mr. Simon from the other end of the Empire State, New York City.
Senator Baker represents the Southern border states, and Mr. Bush, with his Connecticut Yankee and Texas ties, does double geographical duty.
Cut another way, several of the announced contenders offer foreign policy experience lacking in Mr. Reagan's public past: Senators Baker and Lugar, former Ambassador Bush, and one-time NATO Ambassador Rumsfeld. And former Treasury Secretary Simon, Congressman Kemp (one of the designers of a tax-cut plan Mr. Reagan and the GOP are pushing this year), and Mr. Rumsfeld represent the Republicans' traditional business constitutiency.
A woman, Anne Armstrong, Ambassador to Great Britain in 1976, is on an earlier list of 18 possible vice-presidential contenders. When Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin tried out the list of 18 on the public, only Gerald Ford actually appeared to add to Mr. Reagan's strength among votersm, with George Bush -- Mr. Reagan's only surviving rival the last days of the campaign -- the next best choice.
New names were still cropping up as Republican delegates arrive in Detroit.
One of the more prominent late entries was Minnessota Gov. Albert H. Quie, a veteran of 21 years in Congress before taking the governorship in 1978. Governor Quie is regarded a moderate on civil rights, opposed to abortion, and in favor of higher defense spending -- all in keeping with the approved Reagan political hues for 1980.
Governnor Quie, like the others in the most-prominent list, has the Washington link thought to be needed to balance a Reagan ticket.
But it is George Bush who is on more front-runners lists than ayone else.
Mr. Bush campaigned valiantly, doggedly, until almost the very end against Mr. Reagan. With well-targeted spending, he engineered popular-vote victories over Mr. Reagan in Pennyslvania, Connecticut, and Michigan, and demonstrated a vote-getting appeal in Midwest and Eastern regions crucial to Republicans this fall.
Mr. Bush's prospects, publically at least, have been hurt by leaks from Reagan insiders. These reports contend that Mr. Reagan felt Mr. Bush did not "measure up" to presidential stature. The drubbing that Mr. Bush took at the Nashua, New Hamsphire, debate -- when Mr. Reagan seized the microphone, saying he'd paid for it, and chastized Mr. Bush for excluding the other GOP contenders -- made Mr. Bush look weak in a showdown, it was said.
But Mr. Bush's supporters hang in there. They contend naming him would show a "unified" ticket -- a joining of ranks by the two surviving Republican contenders, an east-west, moderate-conservative tie. He would help against Rep. John Anderson of Illinois, who is running as an independent, in states like Connecticut and Wisconsin, where Mr Anderson is running strong.
Mr. Rumsfeld has been getting some last-minute touting from Republican insiders in Detroit. Some see him as making a difference in a key state, Illinois, where John Anderson could draw enough to give the state to Carter.
Mr. Rumsfeld, now a chief executive weith G. D. Searle & Co. in Skokie, III., was director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Cost of Living Council under President Nixon.
Mr. Lugar, a one-time nayor of Indianapolis, is a former Eagle Scout and Rhodes scholar who is thought to have many of Senator Baker's plusses but few of his minuses. Mr. Lugar was an early Baker backer for president and still says the TEnnessee senator is his own first choice as vice-president.
Mr. Lugar tends to be low key, professional, whereas Mr. Baker waxes folksy in style. Mr. Lugar is not nearly as well known as Mr. Baker -- still familiar to many Americans for his watergate probe question, "What did the President know and when did he know it?" Mr. Lugar has gotten good marks with Republicans for his role in negotiating the New York City budget crisis plan -- another sympathetic Eastern city link for a Reagan ticket.
Senator Baker, however, has been the object of right-wing attack and ridicule. The Conservative Digest pictured him on its July cover wearing a dunce cap, and said he "helped lead the Senate fight to give away the Panama Canal." Many voters mights actually like Mr. Baker's moderate stands on abortion , gay rights, revenue sharing, and the Equal Rights Amendment, where the conservatives say he is at odds with Mr. Reagan. And many neutral observes think Mr. Baker -- as the ranking Senate Republican with a firm grasp of most issues the White House must address -- would give a Reagan ticket the most balance and stature. But the right-wing attack might have already created an effective veto, Mr. BAker's supporters concede.
Representative Vander Jagt, another Midwest moderate, has been heading the GOP 1980 drive for House seats, and is in the running for the House minority leader's post for 1981.
But Mr. Vander Jagt will have to rely on his highly regarded oratorical skills as convention keynoter to propel him to a serious contender's standing. "He is maybe the top 25 percent of House Republicans," says one authority on congressional affairs. "But he's not one of the two or three heavyweights in the House. He is not known by his colleagues as one of the more thoughtful members. He is intensely partisan. Chosing him would not be assuring to independents or blue-collar Democrats."
Mr. Kemp is co-author of the Kemp-Roth bill, a three-year tax reduction plan that would supposedly spur productivity.He is regarded as Mr. Reagan's sentimental favorite. He would bring a youthful balance to the ticket, but not much else, republican vice-presidential handicappers says. Mr. Kemp's conservative views are too akin to Mr. Reagan's to provide added ideological breadth. He is known principally in his own Buffalo area, and would not help much in New York generally or in neighboring Pennyslvania and Ohio.
Senator Laxalt, likewise, as a close Reagan friend, may be too near Mr. Reagan ideologically to help the ticket. Senator Laxalt has greater stature on the Hill than the younger Kemp. He could assist Mr. Reagan in the design of domestic programs.
Former Treasury Secretay Simon's list of achievements outruns the other vice-presidental contenders' entries by two or three times. But he comes up short on the personal scale, many Republicans say.
According to checks with political observes in the four key states of Illinois, Texas, Ohio, and New York, it is George Bush's name on the ballot that would help Ronald Reagan the most.
In Texas, Messrs. Bush and Kemp closely divide the state's delegation when polled for their vice-presidential preference. "Bush would help the most," a Texas political observer says. "But Kemp has a following.Some West Texas rural people just don't trust Bush. They don't like Bush claiming to be from four or five states. They thing Bush's Trilateral Commission is an Eastern establishment Communist plot."
Mr. baker would hurt Reagan in Texas, this Texas observer says; he's seen as too liberal. Texans who would vote for Reagan-Kemp or Reagan-Bush wouldn't vote for Reagan-Baker.
It is a mistake, however, to look at vice-presidental projections strictly geographical terms, says Alan Baron, author of a political newsletter. "Bush will help with Protestants, upper-middle-class Republicans as a national group -- in Philadelphia's suburbs, Vermont, and Texas," Mr. Baron says. "A moderate Republican helps Reagan everywhere.
All the logic is Bush," Mr. Baron says. "No candidate is perpect. But Bush comes closest to meeting [Reagan pollster Richard] Wirthlin's criteria for vice-president: First, you have to have somebody with national experience and national stature. Second, you have to bring back moderate, suburban Republicans -- a swing group wavering toward Anderson and Carter. Third you need someone who doesn't send conservatives running.
It is difficult to calculate precisely how much any vice-presidential candidate would help a presidential nominee, election analysts say.
"We know in a general sense that [Sen. Robert] Dole detracted from Ford in 1976 and [then-Sen. Walter F.] Mondale added to Carter," says University of Connecticut public opinion expert Everett Ladd. "Muskie helped Humphrey in '68. But that's the conventional wisdom. A number can't be put on this kind of support.
"Picking a vice-president is more in the realm of art than of pulling numbers ," Mr. Ladd says. "The only judgment bearing on vice-presidents that counts is the one made in October, when the voter looks at the major party candidates -- and this year maybe an independent candidate -- and asks, 'Am I comfortable about having him as president?' If yes, he's a plus. If no, a minus."
The public wants White House candidates to be "presidential," a term they use vaguely but with emphasis, Mr. Ladd says. People will be looking at vice-presidential candidates the same way.