(CNSNews.com) - Vice-President Dick Cheney's health problems have triggered speculation that he may be forced to step down, a move that could potentially throw the Republican 2008 presidential nomination race into disarray.
Although only 66, Cheney has suffered four heart attacks in the past and has undergone angioplasty and bypass surgery. This week, he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg. Blood clots can travel to the lungs and result in a pulmonary embolism -- a sudden blockage of blood flow in an artery in the lung -- one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
In the event of the vice presidency becoming vacant through resignation or death, the Constitution requires the president to nominate a vice president who must be confirmed by majority vote of both houses of Congress.
Bush would find it difficult to get a Democratic-controlled Congress to approve a conservative nominee, analysts say. At the same time, neither of the leading GOP 2008 presidential aspirants -- former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- would be eager to be seen as President Bush's heir apparent, should he tap either of them for the job.
If, on the other hand, Bush were to replace Cheney with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- a move analysts consider not unlikely in the event of a vacancy -- Rice would almost certainly accept the position only if she was also prepared to run for president in 2008.
Despite the existence of several Draft Rice groups, and even a book by former Clinton staffer Dick Morris predicting a clash in 2008 between Rice and Sen. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state has repeatedly indicated that she has no plans or desire to become president. Rice has said she will likely return to academia -- although she would happily serve as commissioner of the National Football League.
Prof. Larry Sabato, director for the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia, says Rice entering the race could short-circuit the Republican contest.
If Cheney were to resign, and if Rice were tapped as the new vice president, "it could be over" for the other Republican candidates, Sabato told Cybercast News Service .
"Right now, this seems wide open, you have a few top-tier candidates," he said. "But the situation can quickly change, if Bush picks Rice as his new vice president."
This is first time since 1928 that neither the sitting president nor vice president has run for the Republican nomination. In that year, President Calvin Coolidge chose not to run again, and his controversial vice president, Charles Dawes, was not seriously considered.
In the three most recent presidential elections in which the president was unable to run again -- having already served two terms -- the incumbent vice president has run.
(Richard Nixon ran to succeed Dwight Eisenhower but lost in 1960; George H. W. Bush ran to succeed Ronald Reagan in 1988, and won; Al Gore ran to succeed Bill Clinton in 2000, and lost to Bush).
As early as 2001, Cheney declared he had no plans to run for president.
(CNSNews.com Managing Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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