Ted Cruz, having abandoned his alliance with John Kasich, having whacked John Boehner for calling him Lucifer, has played his veep card. For the moment, at least, Carly Fiorina doesn’t seem to be doing much good for a candidate who may never be in the position to name a running mate.

But Hillary Clinton undoubtedly will—and she is playing the veepstakes game with great gusto. The press, for its part, is happy to play along, having an insatiable appetite for this sort of guesswork.

It began with an authorized leak to the New York Times. The paper reported that “Hillary Clinton’s advisers and allies have begun extensive discussions about who should be her running mate, seeking to compile a list of 15 to 20 potential picks for her team to start vetting by late spring.”

Now that may be true, but usually these things are conducted quietly, at least at this early stage. But the Clinton camp wants this out there. The obvious implication is that if she’s vetting running mates, she’s looking past the Bernie battle, which positions her as the de facto nominee.

And Hillary and Bill were looking at specific names: Virginia senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

When campaigns do this sort of thing, they are trying to flatter certain politicians who have little chance of actually being picked. But they are also playing to constituency groups: Hispanics in the case of Perez, a little-known Cabinet secretary, and blacks in the case of Patrick.

The campaign let it be known that “Mrs. Clinton is also open to a woman,” and top honcho John Podesta told the Boston Globe “tthere is no question that there will be women on that list.”

This, of course, unleashed a wave of media chatter about Elizabeth Warren, as the campaign knew it would. And that was intended not only to tap into Warren’s popularity with the liberal base but as a lure for Sanders supporters who oppose Clinton or at best feel lukewarm about her.

Columnists were quick to pounce. “Why Elizabeth Warren Would Have More Clout As Hillary Clinton’s VP,” said the Huffington Post.

The Washington Post’s Gene Robinson wrote that “as Clinton’s running mate, Warren could erase [her] potential weakness with the Democratic base. She has spent her Senate career becoming known as the scourge of Wall Street. No political figure is more closely identified with efforts to curb the excesses of the financial system.”

The move strikes me as unlikely—Warren is a freshman senator with no foreign policy experience who has not endorsed Clinton—but whether it’s real is beside the point. Hillary can use the press to reap the benefits of appearing to seriously consider Warren, whether she is or not.

Still, why stop there? Other pundits threw HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Sen. Amy Klobuchar into the mix. Politico weighed in with “The Case for Vice President Al Franken.” 

Not to be outdone, Fiscal Times floats 18 possible names, including Martin O’Malley (who so electrified voters during his time in the race).

All fun and games, but when it comes to these Clinton leaks, it’s a quadrennial ritual with a serious purpose: to buttress her candidacy months before she actually makes the pick.

Footnote: Donald Trump is involved in a sort of reverse veepstakes, with the New York Times reporting that some prominent Republicans are refusing even to be considered as his running mate. But I bet he has no trouble finding a suitable candidate.

 

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.