But as the race has narrowed to a dead heat, top Republican officials have stepped up their angling for slots in a Romney administration. And Romney advisers tasked with leading the “Readiness Project,” an internal operation to ensure a smooth transition of power during the 77 days between the election and the inauguration, have assembled short lists of candidates for the highest-level Cabinet and White House staff positions — including the people who would quickly take the helm should Romney win and begin mapping out the rest of his senior leadership staff.
Asked to describe the kind of team Romney would build, one Republican close to the transition planning said it would be “the third Reagan term that we never got.” Other supporters said they are looking for clues as to whether Romney would cater to the ideological right or more to the center, with evidence pointing to both.
Although the Romney campaign says the candidate has made no final personnel decisions, and the formal vetting would not begin until after the election, a picture of a possible Romney administration has begun to emerge — especially on the economic and foreign policy fronts, two areas that will present the winner with immediate challenges.
Mike Leavitt, a former Utah governor and secretary of Health and Human Services, is heading Romney’s transition team, which is based in Washington, funded with government money and largely independent from the Boston-based campaign. Leavitt is being discussed as a likely chief of staff in a Romney administration, which would signal that Romney wants a pragmatic leader, versed in the ways of Washington, at the helm rather than an ideological firebrand or an outsider. Aides said Leavitt wields unquestioned authority, with lists of candidates for appointments going through him before reaching Romney.
Conflicting pressures on Romney are playing out in his rumored finalists for secretary of state. Robert B. Zoellick, a George W. Bush administration official who recently stepped down as head of the World Bank, is being mentioned as a possible head of the State Department or the Treasury Department.
But conservative Romney allies consider Zoellick too moderate and conciliatory and not as powerful an advocate for American strength abroad as other contenders for national security positions, including John R. Bolton, a Romney campaign surrogate who served as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.