(Corrects 6th paragraph to attribute the information to NBC News)
By Steve Holland
CHICAGO, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Sen. Hillary Clinton emerged on Thursday as a candidate to be U.S. secretary of state for Barack Obama, months after he defeated her in an intense contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Putting Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, in the position could help heal whatever lingering divisions remain in the Democratic Party after her bitter battle with Obama.
Obama passed over Clinton as his vice presidential running mate in favor of Sen. Joe Biden, a decision that angered her ardent supporters and widened a rift in the party that Obama and Clinton later worked hard to heal.
Her selection as top U.S. diplomat could also mean a more hawkish foreign policy than that advocated by Obama during his presidential campaign. On the campaign trail, Clinton was more reluctant than Obama to commit to a firm timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
But both Obama and Clinton were adamant about improving the image of the United States abroad and correcting what they considered the "failed policies" of the outgoing Bush administration.
NBC News quoted an adviser as saying Clinton had flown to Chicago, where Obama has an office, on Thursday on personal business. Her office would say only that she had no official business on Thursday.
Neither her aides nor aides to President-elect Obama would say whether she was interviewed for the job by Obama, who spent a great part of the day behind closed doors in transition meetings in Chicago.
"Any speculation about cabinet or other administration appointments is really for President-elect Obama's transition team to address," said Clinton's senior adviser, Philippe Reines.
NBC News and The Washington Post reported that Clinton was under consideration for the top U.S. diplomatic position.
This would mean Obama was expanding his search beyond other candidates mentioned for the job, such as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat who lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush, and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who backed Obama over Republican John McCain this year.
CNN reported that on Monday night, while walking into an awards ceremony in New York, Clinton was asked if she would consider taking a post in the Obama administration. It did not sound like she ruled it out.
"I am happy being a senator from New York, I love this state and this city. I am looking at the long list of things I have to catch up on and do. But I want to be a good partner and I want to do everything I can to make sure his agenda is going to be successful," Clinton said.
The former first lady had argued during the Democratic primary campaign that Obama was too inexperienced to be president. But they mended fences and during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, she declared that "Barack Obama is my candidate and he must be our president."
Analyst Paul Light of New York University's John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress said picking Clinton would mean Obama was serious about reaching across the party divide.
On the other hand, he said: "To put her in the competition with several others and pick somebody other than Hillary Clinton after you've floated her name is to have a repeat of the spring and summer division and raise questions about Obama's seriousness about healing the division within the party."
Clinton was at first considered the shoo-in to win the Democratic nomination only to watch the 47-year-old Illinois senator defeat her in a series of decisive battles.
Whether Clinton would want the position was immediately debated on cable television talk shows. After all, she wanted to be president, and why would she settle for anything less?
"I think she has her sights set higher than that," said Stephen Hayes, a columnist for the Weekly Standard Magazine, on CNN.
On the other hand, Obama won election over McCain decisively and if he is successful in his first term, he very well could win again in 2012, probably putting the presidency out of reach for Clinton, who is now 61.
As U.S. first lady Clinton devoted a great deal of time to the rights of women around the world, often traveling the globe with her daughter, Chelsea.
As a presidential candidate, she argued for putting greater U.S. emphasis on defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in ensuring nuclear weapons do not spread.
Additional reporting by Vicki Allen, Jackie Frank and JoAnne Allen, editing by Jackie Frank