LOUIS LANZANO / AP Enlarge
CHICAGO - Sen. Hillary Clinton is among the candidates who President-elect Barack Obama is considering for secretary of state, according to two Democratic officials in close contact with the Obama transition team.
Mrs. Clinton, the former first lady who pushed Mr. Obama hard for the Democratic presidential nomination, was rumored to be a contender for the job last week, but the talk died down as party activists questioned whether she was best-suited to be the top diplomat in an Obama administration.
The talk resumed a day after Mr. Obama named several former aides to President Bill Clinton to his transition effort.
Mrs. Clinton was described by her office as having flown to Chicago yesterday on personal business.
Neither her aides nor aides to Mr. Obama would say whether she was interviewed for the job by Mr. Obama.
Putting Mrs. Clinton in the position could help heal whatever lingering divisions remain in the Democratic Party after her bitter battle with Mr. Obama. But floating her name as a possible secretary of state and then not choosing her could make the party split worse.
Mr. Obama passed over Mrs. Clinton as his vice presidential running mate in favor of Sen. Joe Biden, a decision that angered her ardent supporters and widened a rift in the party that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton later worked hard to heal.
Her selection as top U.S. diplomat also could mean a more hawkish foreign policy than that advocated by Mr. Obama during his presidential campaign. On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton was more reluctant than Mr. Obama to commit to a firm timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
But both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton were adamant about improving the image of the United States abroad and correcting what they considered the "failed policies" of the outgoing Bush Administration.
Other candidates frequently mentioned for the job include:
•Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat who lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush.
•Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who backed Mr. Obama over Republican John McCain this year.
•Sam Nunn, a Democrat and former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.
•New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was U.N. ambassador in Mr. Clinton's administration and also sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Also, defense department officials told McClatchy Newspapers that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said not long ago that it was inconceivable he'd remain at his post under a Democratic administration, is likely to remain for a time if Mr. Obama asks him to.
Mr. Gates and Mr. Obama have been communicating through surrogates, and many of Mr. Gates' aides expect Mr. Obama to ask him to stay.
Mr. Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in December, 2006.
Mr. Gates, who was the president of Texas A&M University, didn't hide his lack of enthusiasm for the job. He hung pictures of his Washington state home in his office, and he made it clear that he'd rather be on Puget Sound than at the Pentagon.
These days, however, he's been silent about the issue, suggesting that he may be open - or resigned - to the idea of staying for a limited time, perhaps six months to a year.
Retaining him would be controversial for many supporters of an administration that's coming to power promising change.
But Mr. Gates has earned the respect of the military and of civilians in the Defense Department, and holding him over for a time would signal Mr. Obama's desire for a measured transition when American troops are fighting two wars.
Moreover, keeping Mr. Gates for a time could help Mr. Obama focus on economic issues in the early days of his presidency.