The incumbent: Dick Cheney
Background: Born in Wyoming into middle-class family, son of a soil conservation agent. Won a scholarship to Yale.
Family: Married his childhood sweetheart, Lynne, with whom he has two grown daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.
Leanings: Hawkish social conservative. Key proponent of the war in Iraq, has voted against abortion rights, gun control and the Equal Rights Amendment
Political experience: Extensive: Has served under four presidents, including President Bush's father. Also spent 11 years as a representative for Wyoming.
Other activities: Was chairman and CEO of Dallas-Based Halliburton, one of the world's leading engineering and construction companies in the oil industry.
Pros: On top of his extensive experience in foreign and national security affairs, his aptitude for the attack renders him an excellent campaigner. This allows Bush team to gain nationwide attention with a pointed offensive while allowing the president to distance himself.
Cons: Same skills can be a minefield at a time when politics is carefully orchestrated; his use of a profanity recently sparked nationwide controversy.
How's his health? Has long been shaky. Had his first heart attack during his first campaign for Congress and has suffered problems since.
The hopeful: John Edwards
Background: Born in South Carolina into working class family, son of a mill worker. Earned law degree from the University of North Carolina.
Family: Married to Elizabeth. The couple has three living children: Catharine, 21, Emma Claire, 5, and Jack, 3. Son Wade was killed in an April 1996 traffic accident.
Leanings: Liberal for a southerner; favours abortion rights. Wants to roll back tax cuts for wealthiest Americans, and opposed the $87bn supplemental spending package last year to fund operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Political experience: Moderate: Elected to the US Senate in 1998, but was immediately deemed a rising star of the Democrats. One of the finalists to be Al Gore's running mate in 2000.
Other activities: Made his name as a trial lawyer; in his most high profile case he secured a record payout for a girl who was caught in a swimming pool drain.
Pros: Boyish good looks and charisma. It is hoped he will help pull in the southern working class vote, an electoral group which Mr Kerry alone may have difficulty reaching.
Cons: Relative novice; particularly lacking experience in the fields of foreign affairs and defence.
How's his health? No apparent cause for concern.