WASHINGTON — Consider a presidential candidate who can see that he's not going to make it: If you're going to drop out anyway, you might as well get something out of it.
Should they endorse a rival? Trying to turn an endorsement into a role in the next administration is a longstanding tradition in American politics, and now such strategizing is under way among the 2008 presidential also-rans.
Whether it's the vice presidential nomination, a Cabinet post, an ambassadorship or just a visible spot as an adviser, now's the time - with primaries and caucuses winnowing the field and endorsements in demand - that many contenders are laying the groundwork.
"There are consolation prizes," said Paul C. Light, a New York University professor of public service and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank. "They absolutely talk about it. It is very much, 'You don't get what you don't ask for.'"
But Light said those conversations don't play out publicly.
"Anybody who runs for vice president or visibly seeks a Cabinet appointment is really demeaning himself or herself. That is best reserved for a private conversation. They get on the phone, they use their surrogates to send the message and if the candidate calls back, they get rolling."
When Republican Rudy Giuliani bowed out at the end of January, he endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He didn't say openly that he wanted anything out of it. There was a flurry of speculation that the ex-prosecutor and former New York mayor might be angling for attorney general, but his post-9/11 reputation as a national security expert could land him in any number of possible spots in a McCain administration.
Democrat Bill Richardson, a prominent Hispanic leader, let both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama court him longer by withholding any endorsement. Former President Bill Clinton, who appointed Richardson U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, even watched the Super Bowl with the New Mexico governor.
When Democrat John Edwards got out of the race, he held off from endorsing either Clinton or Obama too, but said he asked both for their commitment to honor his signature cause of eradicating poverty. Still, behind the scenes and publicly, both candidates were hoping - and working - to win his endorsement.
Light said there are pecking orders to these things. The "inner" Cabinet positions - attorney general and the secretaries of state, defense and treasury - are generally more coveted than labor or housing.
What about the vice presidency?
While its been a powerful job under Dick Cheney, that's not typical. Light said it's likely to revert back to being a backwater post that the president largely ignores, especially if the next president is a Washington insider. It might be still worth pursuing by a hopeful who thinks they could use it as a springboard to a future run for the presidency, but for a candidate such as Edwards, who's already failed in two presidential tries, or for an older candidate, it probably would be more trouble than it's worth.