in Washington - It had the storyline of a B-grade fairy tale: The king of the land picks a trusted, almost invisible aide to head up the search for a suitable mate. After scouring the land in search of the fairest of them all, the king at last settles on ... the trusted, almost invisible aide. You find true love where you least expect it. In this case, of course, true love wasn't the ultimate goal. Rather, it was true loyalty. True grit. True gravitas. Those are the qualities George W. Bush decided were most important in choosing a (running) mate, and he found them-in true fairy-tale fashion-in Dick Cheney, the man he'd appointed to lead the selection process. "Gradually, I realized the person who was best qualified to be my vice president was working by my side," Mr. Bush said in his July 25 announcement. If the Texas governor wanted to make a surprise choice, Mr. Cheney certainly qualified. The 59-year-old Republican workhorse was never really mentioned by pundits as a serious contender for the job. The focus had been on more daring candidates: Arizona Sen. John McCain. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. New York Gov. George Pataki. Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. But in the end, solidity won out over sex appeal. Over the weekend, deliberating in solitude at his ranch outside Austin, Mr. Bush apparently decided to surprise with subtlety rather than flash. In 1988, his father had picked a young, relatively inexperienced Dan Quayle to bring exuberance and excitement to the ticket. Twelve years later, exuberance and excitement were two words rarely associated with the VP pick. Instead, Mr. Bush emphasized his old family friend's quality of character and years of experience. "I'm proud to announce that Dick Cheney, a man of great integrity and sound judgment, is my choice to be the vice president of the United States," Mr. Bush told a crowd of supporters at the University of Texas. Many vice presidential also-rans echoed the same sentiments. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), for instance, said Mr. Cheney "represents the quality, character, and experience that America is searching for in national leadership." Even Mr. McCain praised Mr. Bush's selection hours before the announcement was made. The early selection of a No. 2 (vice presidents are typically unveiled during the party convention) allowed Mr. Bush to take back control of his own campaign. He had lost that control about a week earlier when John McCain let "slip" that he would accept the vice presidency if asked. That set off a feeding frenzy among Mr. McCain's journalist-groupies, who quickly blanketed the airwaves with pro-McCain segments. The typical story line: The Arizona senator could reunite the Republican Party and bring in droves of independent voters. He would help create a dream ticket, if only Mr. Bush could humble himself and seek the aid of his old rival. In Washington, 70 GOP House members ratcheted up the pressure still further by circulating a letter that urged Mr. Bush to name Mr. McCain to his ticket. Though Mr. Bush himself remained mum, his aides moved quickly to shut down the McCain momentum. By late Friday, July 21, the super-secret selection process had sprung a major leak, and Mr. Cheney was widely acknowledged to be the frontrunner. The normally tight-lipped campaign acknowledged that Mr. Cheney had switched his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming in order to avoid a technical glitch in the nominating process. Furthermore, aides confirmed, after three minor heart attacks in the past, Mr. Cheney had received a clean bill of health by a world-renowned heart specialist in Houston. Conservatives were generally pleased with the man chosen to serve a heartbeat away from the presidency. Mike Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association who ran for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993, recalls that Mr. Cheney originally backed his more liberal opponent in the Republican primary. But after Mr. Farris clinched the nomination, Mr. Cheney became an enthusiastic supporter, even hosting campaign events for the Christian conservative. "He's not one of us, but he understands us, and I think he appreciates our issues and concerns," Mr. Farris told WORLD. During 12 years in the House of Representatives, Mr. Cheney was regarded as a loyal Reaganite, taking a consistently conservative line on economic-, foreign-, and social-policy votes. He voted in favor of outlawing abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. That earned him high marks from conservative watchdog groups-and the undying enmity of organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood. "The line has been drawn and the choice Americans face is clear," said Alice Germond, executive vice president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "It is now impossible for Bush to pretend that he is anything but solidly anti-choice.... Bush's selection of Cheney vividly illustrates the stranglehold the far right has on the Republican Party, Bush's candidacy, and would have on his presidency." Despite the hyperventilating of groups like NARAL, Mr. Cheney probably won't be seen as overly threatening to moderate voters. During his congressional career, he managed to cast conservative votes without casting aspersions on his opponents. Indeed, it was his low-key, non-oratorical style that made him the "almost invisible" aide who took the media pundits by surprise. By flying beneath the radar for most of his career, he racked up an impressively long list of accomplishments-and a surprisingly short list of enemies. That made him a safe-even boring-choice for the second slot on the Republican ticket. Too safe, in the eyes of some. Christian Pinkston, who served as Jack Kemp's press secretary during his 1996 vice presidential campaign, insisted right up until the end that Mr. Cheney was merely a decoy designed to throw the press off the trail of the real candidate. "The Cheney stuff is a fake. With all due respect, I can't imagine a more boring pick," Mr. Pinkston said. "Bush doesn't need a solid pick, he needs an exciting pick. Cheney wouldn't do anything for the ticket." From a strategic standpoint, Mr. Cheney does seem an unlikely No. 2. His home state of Wyoming is safe Republican territory in presidential elections. And even if it were a battleground state, its three electoral votes would hardly put it in the "must-win" category. (It takes 270 electoral votes to capture the White House.) So what, exactly, does the selection say about Mr. Bush? It says, for starters, that he's confident he'll win in November. Had he expected a squeaker, he'd likely have gone with the favorite son of a large, important swing state in an effort to capture that state's electoral votes. Instead, aides insist, he looked at qualifications for the job rather than quantities of votes. No one doubts Mr. Cheney is eminently qualified to be president, should it come to that. Indeed, one factor working against him was that he might seem more qualified than his boss. Second, by choosing Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush seemed to be saying that his campaign will rise above faction. Finding a candidate who is acceptable to both conservatives and moderates within the GOP was no easy task. Indeed, weeks of media speculation invariably ended with a warning that any given candidate would alienate a large bloc of voters. Mr. Bush was determined to find a running mate who avoided that trap. In doing so, he sent a strong signal that his talk of forming a new kind of Republican Party is more than mere rhetoric. Finally, the Cheney selection signals a return to the ethos of the Reagan-Bush years following the messy Clinton-Gore interregnum. In Mr. Cheney, the ticket now has a solid link to both previous Republican administrations. That suggests that Mr. Bush will run a campaign emphasizing values and character-even nostalgia-rather than specific policies. So, for Mr. Cheney, the political fairy tale has begun. Not until November will he learn whether this particular fairy tale has a happy ending.