VATICAN CITY -- It had all the hallmarks of a political campaign: The candidate was shaking hands in the adoring crowd, a television crew and security detail covering his every move.
Except that this is no regular election, and the people don't have a vote.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, archbishop of Genoa and a papal contender, was working the crowd outside St. Peter's Basilica yesterday, greeting some of the hundreds of thousands lined up to pay their final respects to Pope John Paul II.
''It's an extraordinary day," he said, a camera crew taping every word. ''Full of memories of our pope. The pope did so much for the world."
Bertone, a former high-ranking Vatican official who took up his Genoa post in 2002, shook hands, embraced a backpacker and gave words of encouragement to the faithful as they waited for hours to file past John Paul's body.
Bertone wasn't exactly hustling for votes, since pilgrims don't vote in a conclave. But he was raising his profile -- one of the more subtle ways cardinals can influence a papal election since overt campaigning is frowned upon.
Even before John Paul died, cardinals were loath to discuss his succession publicly, ducking the question or, if pressed, sticking to generalities about the qualities that would make a good pope -- even though they weren't shy about going before TV cameras.
''That is up to heaven, what God is thinking about that, and then up to the cardinals. I have no comment," Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, himself a papal contender, told reporters yesterday when asked to speculate on the winner of this month's conclave.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, went so far as to say he hadn't even discussed the issue with any of his colleagues.
''I have not had one discussion nor heard anyone that has," he told CNN, stressing that cardinals were instead talking about the problems facing the church.
A cardinal will often say that any cardinal other than himself would make a fine pope.
''I have always said my shoulders were too small for such a heavy weight," Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Brazil told Italian state radio.
Nevertheless, papal politicking is going on, and even the slightest gesture can be loaded with meaning.
It seemed significant, for example, that some of the top ''papabili," or cardinals considered to have the qualities of being a pope, attended a recent meeting in New York on improving relations with Jews.
John Paul made reaching out to other religions a hallmark of his papacy. With tensions between faiths on the rise worldwide, a cardinal who has been active in interfaith relations might be viewed positively behind the secret doors of the Sistine Chapel.
So there were Danneels, Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, and Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice -- all considered papabili -- telling a conference of Jewish leaders that the Vatican's unprecedented outreach to Jews would continue.
With them were Cardinal Walter Kasper, who leads the Vatican's office for relations with Jews, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of France, a confidant of John Paul's and a Jewish convert -- both of whom are also on some papabili lists.
Plugging other candidates -- in broad regional terms -- is also a way cardinals can subtly make their thoughts known.
Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini of Italy told Corriere della Sera newspaper that the papacy might not return to Italy -- and that the Latin Americans might snatch it away.
''If one looks at the hard numerical facts, those of the baptized and those of the cardinals, one is struck by the importance achieved by Latin America," he was quoted as saying.
When asked yesterday if it might be time for a Latin American pope, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua, didn't rule it out.
''John Paul II called Latin America the continent of hope," he said, before quickly adding that he simply hoped the cardinals and the Holy Spirit would elect the right man.
The Rev. Thomas Williams, a Rome-based theologian, stressed that any serious discussion about papal candidates was going on behind closed doors, and that public statements were more about educating the people than trying to influence the conclave.
''Those who appear much in public actually lower their chances rather than raise them," he said.
''Honestly, most of the cardinals do not want this job," he said. ''Most of the campaigning going on is for others."
Maybe Bertone wasn't stumping for himself when he greeted the faithful outside St. Peter's yesterday, telling reporters the crowds were there ''to give back to the pope all the love the pope gave to the world."
But Bertone, 70, is considered papabile. He heads an important diocese, Genoa, and is known by Italians because he occasionally offers radio play-by-play of his favorite soccer team, Juventus.
He also made international headlines a few weeks ago when he organized a seminar to call for a boycott of Dan Brown's best-selling book ''The Da Vinci Code." He said the book espouses heresy and deceives the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics and others by distorting the origins of Christianity.
Bertone served as the No. 2 to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, before heading to Genoa.
Ratzinger is the dean of the College of Cardinals and will have a prominent role in conclave proceedings. A German, Ratzinger is often mentioned as a possible ''transitional" pope after John Paul's 26-year papacy.
A Ratzinger candidacy could be opposed by reform-minded cardinals, although John Paul, by appointing nearly all of those who will vote for his successor, has put his conservative stamp on the body.
Although Danneels is seen as having a deft diplomatic touch needed for sensitive interfaith talks, Vatican watchers say his views are too progressive for conservatives within the conclave. Danneels, 71, has long spoken forcefully about the need for greater ''collegiality" -- a Vatican code word for more democracy in John Paul's centralized church.