WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two wars and a deepening financial crisis have raised expectations that whoever wins the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday will move quickly to announce picks for senior government jobs.
Democrat Barack Obama, who leads in the polls over Republican John McCain, has been accused by his rival of being so confident of a victory that he is already “measuring the drapes” in the Oval Office.
Republicans also are seizing on reports that Obama’s transition team has been working to enable him possibly to unveil key picks such as Treasury secretary and secretary of State soon after the election if he wins.
But former government officials and public policy experts say early preparations are essential given the challenges that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and economic turmoil will present to the new president when he takes over in January.
“The need for a seamless transition is greater than it has been in our adult political lifetime,” said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton and now a professor at the University of Maryland.
“With two wars abroad and an international financial crisis going on, there cannot be a period in which the new administration is just getting up to speed,” Galston said.
Some analysts believe certain jobs, such as Treasury secretary, could be announced within days of the election and speculation is already rife about several names.
The next Treasury secretary will inherit one of the hottest seats in Washington, tasked both with guiding a $700 billion economic bailout package and the regulatory reform needed to prevent a repeat of the current crisis.
Should Obama win, the short list for Treasury would likely include former Treasury secretary Larry Summers, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Both candidates have spoken favorably about investor Warren Buffett, an Obama supporter.
McCain has also mentioned former eBay chief Meg Whitman and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers as possible Treasury picks. Also in the running would be Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp who has pushed a plan to modify home loans to prevent mortgage defaults.
For secretary of State, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry; former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, outgoing Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Georgia Democratic senator Sam Nunn are names circulating for Obama. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Independent, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick are two people McCain would consider.
Both Obama and McCain might consider keeping Robert Gates on as secretary of Defense. Obama could also consider tapping former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, a close adviser.
McCain has been willing to discuss a few names for jobs such as Treasury secretary. Obama is not tipping his hand either on names on his short lists or the timing of any picks.
Obama’s campaign is maintaining the utmost secrecy on planning for the transition, which will occur in the 11 weeks between the November 4 vote and January 20, when a successor to President George W. Bush is sworn in.
Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois, told ABC News he had “some pretty good ideas” about people he might tap for senior jobs, although he emphasized he is focused on the final days of the campaign and takes nothing for granted.
He said he would “absolutely” include Republicans in his Cabinet but he sidestepped a question about whether he would ask Gates to stay on at Defense.
The Bush administration has emphasized its willingness to make resources available to both candidates to enable them to vet candidates prior to the election.
Stephen Wayne, professor of government at Georgetown University, said that in addition to those major Cabinet posts, it would be important for an incoming president to designate a chief of staff early.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who hails from Obama’s home state of Illinois, would be a potential chief of staff for the Democrat as would former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle. Former Navy Secretary John Lehman might serve that role in a McCain administration.
Editing by David Storey