Next: Kerry's key Cabinet choices

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With John Kerry on the verge of officially winning the Democratic nomination, it's time for a next step in the electoral process: examining candidates for spots in his Cabinet.

If you want to get technical, it's a touch premature to measure the drapes in Don Rumsfeld's office, given that Kerry hasn't been elected yet. President Bush and the GOP will do their best to prevent reporters from ever having to utter the phrase "Kerry transition team" on air.

But picking through advisers and matching them up with possible Cabinet roles reveals a lot about candidates themselves. A US administration is a joint effort, after all. Undecided voters might find it easier to make up their minds if they consider what personalities a challenger would install in office for the next four years.

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A relative unknown to much of the voting public, Mr. Kerry might particularly benefit from helping this process along.

"Kerry potentially could help define himself by naming people to a couple of key positions," says Bruce Bartlett, a senior analyst for the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington.

That doesn't mean the Kerry campaign would find lining up a shadow cabinet to be easy. As the carnival of this year's convention makes clear, the Democratic party remains a highly diverse organization. The factions may be united behind their ticket, but if it wins they'll push hard for seats at the nation's table of power.

Kerry would have to try to satisfy both African-Americans ("Look, there's Jesse Jackson coming out of a Fleet Center men's room!") and old-line Humphrey liberals (former VP and Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale has been a big hit with delegates on the floor).

Veterans now have their own Democratic caucus, which was rallied this week by wild-man consultant and former Marine James Carville. Then there are centrist Clintonites, a number of whom sobbed throughout the Hillary and Bill speeches on Monday night.

Furthermore, as a career Washington politician, Kerry would find a long line of friends, colleagues, and former and current employees at his door the morning after a victory party. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware might want to parlay his experience on the Foreign Relations Committee into a foreign-policy job, for instance. And where would that leave Nancy Stetson, Kerry's Senate international affairs adviser?

"Public figures function as clusters of persons whose fate is aligned with their principal," writes Charles Jones, University of Wisconsin political science professor emeritus, in a Brookings Institution policy brief. "The clusters grow in size in a campaign."

The man needs help here, clearly. He's got too much winnowing to do on his own; at last count his campaign's justice policy task force alone had 195 members.

When it comes to likely appointees, Professor Jones concludes, "informed speculation should be encouraged, based on a review of those with experience and either a close association with the candidate or obvious support for his views."

Here it is, Kerry cabinet speculation as informed as any you're likely to read today:

The sentimental choice: Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri is widely liked in the party, and many influential Democrats would like to see him get a top job. His union ties would make him a good fit for secretary of Labor.

Odds-on favorite (foreign policy division): Party insiders generally see former Clinton UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke as their secretary of state in waiting. A tough diplomat who helped bring peace to Bosnia, Holbrooke is experienced at the sort of nation-building the US is attempting in Iraq. If anything, Holbrooke might be too tough - his style won him bureaucratic adversaries as well as devotees.

Odds-on favorite (domestic policy division): Another Clintonite, former deputy secretary of the Treasury Roger Altman, is a front-runner for the Treasury's top job. Altman is a New York banker - a big plus in the eyes of some Democrats. Respected Clinton-era Treasury chief Robert Rubin came from Wall Street, after all.

The problem of the Pentagon: Kerry lacks an obvious pick for Secretary of Defense. His former opponent in the primaries, Gen. Wesley Clark, has extensive high-level military experience, but concerns about the separation of military and civil authority often keep ex-generals out of the Pentagon spot. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan has served on the Armed Services Committee for decades, and might get the nod here.

Hands across the aisle: If elected, Kerry would probably reach out and name someone from the other party to a top post, as Bush and Clinton did in their first round of Cabinet appointments. Former Sen. Bill Cohen of Maine, a friend of Kerry's, could return to the Defense post he held in the Clinton administration.

Elsewhere, crusading New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer might end up at the Justice Department, especially now that the obvious choice, ex-trial lawyer Sen. John Edwards, has been assigned another role. Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen was a stalwart for Kerry in the primaries, and might be considered for secretary of Health and Human Services.

Hillary Clinton? Don't hold your breath. The tensions and jockeying for power that might cause are obvious. And Sen. John McCain remains the favorite Republican of many Kerry supporters, but he's similarly unlikely to end up in a Kerry administration. He's said he remains committed to President Bush.

And besides, being the forceful McCain's boss might be a tough job.

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