He may be a White House hopeful who must emerge from the shadow cast by his father's own presidential legacy, but George W. Bush looks to have his political fortunes firmly tied to the intriguing figures of Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. Mr Cheney was defence secretary under George Bush Snr and now is organising the ultra-discreet hunt for the younger Bush's vice-presidential running mate, a role that has not stopped his sudden emergence at the weekend as a favoured contender himself. General Powell served under Bush the elder, too, as the first black to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His unique background has seen him become something of a dream candidate for a Republican vice-president, given the traditional importance of the black vote to the Democrats. He has said he is not interested in elected office but would happily accept secretary of state should Mr Bush win. If General Powell cannot be convinced to become his running mate, Mr Bush is expected to announce his nomination as secretary of state in a publicity coup timed for the start of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia next week, party insiders say. Republican sources yesterday confirmed that Mr Powell had remained in discussions with the Bush camp over the weekend despite a flurry of reports about Mr Cheney. CBS News said Mr Powell's wife had dropped earlier reservations about her husband running for elected office. Whatever job Mr Powell ends up playing, it will be a moment laced with both history and irony. Mr Cheney and General Powell led American involvement in the Gulf War in 1991 - the one-sided crushing of Saddam Hussein's invasion forces in Kuwait that arguably marked former president Bush's finest hour. If Mr Cheney gets the nod as candidate for vice-president, he will add both personal depth and a formidable wealth of Washington experience and knowledge to Mr Bush's limited background as an entrepreneur and governor of Texas. Mr Cheney, 59, has an intimate knowledge of Capitol Hill as well as the inside of government administration. He came to Washington in his late 20s, working as a congressional intern. His calm, steady qualities won him respect from a wide range of political camps and, aged just 34, he was picked by president Gerald Ford in 1975 to serve as the White House chief of staff. He parlayed this - one of the most powerful slots in Washington - into a congressional seat for Wyoming before heading to the Pentagon to serve in one of the most high-profile of Mr Bush's cabinet positions. But question marks hang over his health - a significant issue in a role just a heartbeat away from the presidency. Mr Cheney suffered heart attacks in 1978, 1984 and 1988 - all election years. After the last attack, he underwent a quintuple bypass. A cardiac surgeon in Houston, Denton Cooley, who described himself as a longtime friend of the Bush family, said on Sunday that he had been asked to consult by telephone with one of Mr Cheney's physicians and help determine if he 'was up to a strenuous campaign'. Dr Cooley reported that his findings had been favourable. For different reasons, General Powell is not easily pigeon-holed. The popularity of his quiet charisma and dignified image after the Gulf War was such that he was even seen as a presidential possibility. From a hard-scrabble upbringing in New York's South Bronx, General Powell became a decorated Vietnam War veteran - serving an early tour as a military adviser in 1962 and then again as the conflict reached its height in 1968. Not only was he the first black head of the Joint Chiefs, he was by far the youngest. Hard lessons learned in Vietnam helped forge a personal doctrine that can make General Powell appear a lot less hawkish than many other military leaders and Republican figures. No advocate of small engagements or slow escalations, he believes overwhelming military force must be used in any conflict America undertakes - but only if there is overwhelming public support. His views have their critics inside the US. 'The problem with Powell is his political and strategic judgment,' warned Robert Kagan, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, yesterday. 'It is also out of sync with the kind of foreign policy George W. Bush claims to favour. Bush is no wild interventionist; if anything, he talks too often about paring foreign deployments. But Bush's sense of America's role and the use of force is a good deal more expansive than Powell's.' A critic of the Republican Party's policies towards black advancement, General Powell gives Mr Bush a chance to add a whole new dimension to his campaign.