Of the eleven candidates in the race, two are regional leaders and a study in contrasts: Konstantin Titov and Aman Tuleev, both 55.

Titov, trained as an engineer, is one of Russia’s “young reformers.” Yeltsin named him governor of Samara, a relatively prosperous industrial region on the Volga river, in 1991. He easily won the first election to that office six years later. In the Federation Council, where regional leaders sit as the upper house of Russia’s parliament, Titov belonged to the pro-Yeltsin Russia Is Our Home faction; last year he joined the new Union of Right-Wing Forces. Titov heads the informal “Greater Volga” association of regions and republics, a grouping that sends more money to Moscow than it gets back and produces politicians with national clout-including Tatarstan’s Mintimir Shaimiev, Saratov’s Dmitri Ayatskov, and Nizhny Novgorod’s Boris Nemtsov. These leaders see Moscow as more curse than blessing and strive for local control. Samara and Saratov, for example, allow farmland to be freely bought and sold, despite a federal prohibition.

Tuleev is a Communist Party member who began his political career in the Soviet era. He ran for president in 1991 and finished fourth with 7 percent of the vote, but he led in his home region of Kemerovo, an economically troubled coalmining area in western Siberia. He briefly served in the cabinet under Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin before his election-by a huge majority–as governor of Kemerovo in 1997. Tuleev represents a “weak” region that gets more from Moscow than it gives. He and leaders of other weak regions–which are most of Russia’s eighty-nine sub-federal units–see loyalty to the center as the price of power and the payment for subsidy.

One issue that divides Titov and Tuleev, and leaders of “strong” and “weak” regions generally, is election of governors. Sub-federal chief executives were originally presidential appointees. That changed in the 1993 constitution, and by 1997 all were elected. Boris Yeltsin had some second thoughts about this system, which turned the region-based upper house of parliament from a lap dog to a pit bull and complicated the president’s life. Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, whom the pit bull bit more than once, wants to go back to an appointive system. So do governors like Tuleev, but governors like Titov like things the way they are.

Vladimir Putin wants to split the difference. Speaking in Irkutsk, Putin said that given Russia’s history, it was perhaps a mistake to rush into the election of governors. But now it might be a mistake to reverse course. Russia, he said, “was created as a centralized state,” and central power is essential, but appointment of governors is not the only way to achieve it. What other ways there may be he did not say, but he seemed to be proposing a dialogue with the governors to negotiate rights and obligations. In the next two years, the term of office for many of the country’s most influential governors will run out. Many may be willing to cede some of their authority to Moscow in exchange for subsidies, or for the chance to remain in power with or without elections.