Center City will be swarming with the governors attending the National Governors Association conference over the next four days, and on Monday, they will make Gov. Rendell their leader.

Rendell will rotate into the chairman's post without a vote, having been named vice chairman at the meeting last year.

Temple political-science professor Joe McLaughlin, who worked for the NGA in the early 1980s, said the chairman's role will take on added prominence with a new president in the White House.

"It's going to mean more visibility, and [Rendell] will be an important figure with either President Obama or President McCain," McLaughlin, "because in his first year the president will be looking for help from the states and engaging them on areas of common interest."

Though Rendell is sometimes mentioned as a Democratic vice-presidential candidate, he has ruled the prospect out, promising repeatedly to complete his term as governor.

He has, however, expressed an interest in a Cabinet post in future years, and heading the governors association will build on the national profile he established as Democratic National Committee chairman in 2000, and more recently as a prominent surrogate for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The NGA is more about policy than politics, and the four-day wonk-fest is the kind of thing Rendell can readily get into.

Each new chairman gets to pick one initiative for the coming year, and Rendell said in an interview his would be infrastructure.

"It's one of the least-partisan issues and a great issue for the NGA," he said.

The governor's association has been a significant player in domestic-policy issues, as Democratic and Republican governors have come together to protect their budgets and prerogatives from federal intrusion.

NGA director Ray Scheppach said the association successfully fought new Medicaid regulations and national identification requirements last year. In those fights, politics matter plenty.

Because governors are such powerful players within their states, controlling jobs, contracts and political appointments, they can influence their congressional delegations and thus impact federal domestic policy.

The weekend will feature plenty of political buzz about the presidential race, and several governors who are potential vice-presidential picks will be getting face time with pols and journalists.

Among potential Democratic running mates will be Kathleen Sebelius, of Kansas, Virginia's Tim Kaine, and Brian Schweitzer, of Montana. Missing are Bill Richardson, of New Mexico, and Ohio's Ted Strickland, who has said he wouldn't take the gig anyway.

Possible GOP veeps in town are Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana, and Sarah Palin, of Alaska. Missing is Charlie Crist, of Florida. *