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The Next Administration

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Advisers say Sen. John McCain is eager to create an administration that is drawn from the ranks of people beyond the Beltway and filled with more than a token Democrat.

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McCain has tapped former Navy secretary John F. Lehman to lead planning for a potential presidential transition. Lehman, a friend of McCain's, is being assisted in identifying players in a new administration by veteran Washington lobbyist William E. Timmons and William L. Ball, another former Navy secretary.

The challenge of stocking an administration may be particularly acute for McCain, who has clashed with many leaders in his party establishment and the Bush administration. He keeps counsel with only a tight group of advisers.

Top priorities will be filling the Cabinet posts dealing with the global financial crisis and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several Republicans predicted that McCain would try to prevail on Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to remain at the Pentagon, while others expect a quicker departure for Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. Many also see a big role in a McCain administration for his close friend Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), perhaps as secretary of state.

Gates said again on Friday that he is not interested in remaining in his post after Jan. 20, though he has not completely shut the door on the prospect. Other possibilities for the Pentagon job include Lehman and former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage, whose oft-stated skepticism about the Iraq war could help McCain signal a break from the Bush administration.

Several individuals close to McCain said they think it unlikely that he would keep Paulson at Treasury, given the campaign's contention that the Bush administration's response to the financial crisis has been focused too much on protecting Wall Street rather than homeowners and consumers. If McCain were to look for a new Treasury secretary, one likely candidate would be Robert B. Zoellick, who served as one of McCain's top issues advisers between stints as deputy secretary of state and World Bank president. Zoellick could also be a candidate for secretary of state should McCain decide Lieberman is too valuable as a Senate ally.

Some Republicans think McCain would go for an outsider at Treasury, perhaps New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who has long shared a close friendship with the Arizona senator. McCain has also heaped praise on a number of business leaders, such as Cisco Systems' John T. Chambers, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay.

At least a few of his advisers are pushing McCain to consider someone like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who mixes business experience with political skills.

"Somebody who is capable and political and can sell," the McCain confidant said. "It's not just a policy job. You have got to be able to sell."

-- Michael Abramowitz and Michael D. Shear


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