If he wins the White House, John F. Kerry will immediately confront a difficult, divisive and deeply personal decision: which close friend will he have to stiff for secretary of state?
Kerry, who would name a national security team a few weeks after the election, is said by campaign sources to be under a fair amount of pressure to pick Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) or Richard Holbrooke to help repair global alliances and attract new allies to assist in Iraq. Both men are seasoned diplomats, ambitious and close friends and political advisers to Kerry. And both clearly want the job.
It was once assumed that Holbrooke, who was a U.N. ambassador under President Bill Clinton, was the front-runner. But campaign sources say Biden's stock soared after the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee played a central role in helping to turn the campaign around last month with a sharper focus on problems in Iraq. Some say that Holbrooke could be sent to the Middle East as a special envoy as a possible consolation prize.
In the end, both men might be passed over for state, campaign sources say, because Kerry has told friends he wants to tap a Republican for one of the top national security posts, preferably defense or state. Those under consideration include Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), as well as former senator Warren Rudman.
Further complicating matters, Kerry privately discussed the State Department post with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) in the final days of the vice presidential search this summer, according to a Democrat familiar with that conversation. Richardson said he is not interested in any Cabinet job.
"The Kerry campaign staff should concentrate on winning the election before speculating on Cabinet positions," Richardson said.
This is only one of the major staffing decisions Kerry will face if he wins on Nov. 2. For a man who has never run anything larger than a district attorney's office, he would quickly name a national security team so it could hit the ground running in January. He would fill most other key Cabinet posts by Christmas Day, aides say.
A dark-horse candidate for defense, some said, is Richard L. Armitage, Bush's second in command at the State Department.
Jim Johnson, who ran the vice presidential search team for Kerry, former labor secretary Alexis M. Herman and David McKean, a longtime Kerry aide, are heading up the transition team, while a fundraiser from California is helping raise money for the search effort, aides said. McKean is studying past transitions and management paradigms to determine what would work best for Kerry.
All three transition figures could land a top job in a Kerry administration, despite concerns about the troubled 1992 Democratic transition -- when Warren M. Christopher, the head of that search team, was named secretary of state midway through the rocky process. But Kerry has a huge farm team from two Clinton administrations to choose from.
Johnson, who some Kerry associates said could be hurt by troubles at Fannie Mae, where he once served as chairman, is considered a front-runner for Treasury. Roger C. Altman, a top economic adviser to Kerry, is also in the mix. Former Treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin could probably have the job again if he wanted it, but many Democrats think he would head to the Federal Reserve to succeed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Johnson is also in the hunt for White House chief of staff. John Sasso, who was recently put on the Kerry plane to restore order and discipline, is making a move for chief of staff, too, campaign sources say. His toughest competition could be Mary Beth Cahill, the campaign manager.
While Kerry has not told friends who would land where, he has made it clear he would want women, minorities and Republicans in top posts, aides say. Jeanne Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor and early Kerry backer, would almost certainly land a domestic post, perhaps the Department of Health and Human Services, a source close to Kerry said. Herman is considered by some aides as another possibility for chief of staff. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is a possibility for homeland defense, as is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The list of minorities is longer. But Dennis Archer, former mayor of Detroit, and Deval L. Patrick, who are black, are considered in the running for attorney general. Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, is also mentioned as a possible replacement for John D. Ashcroft.
Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, the chairman and co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, have been mentioned as possible replacements for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as has former House member Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.).
Some candidates are taking themselves out of the running. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) has let it be known that he is not interested in heading the Labor Department. Others are lobbying hard for a job, including Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), who could land at the Agriculture or Education Department, and Former Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, a likely pick for a top military post, campaign sources said.