WASHINGTON // The US President-elect Barack Obama has interviewed primary election rivals Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson to be his secretary of state, Democrats say, as he weighed the decision on folding former foes into his new administration. Mr Obama had meetings in Chicago with Mr Richardson yesterday and a day earlier with Mrs Clinton, said several Democratic officials. He plans to meet with his Republican opponent, John McCain, in Chicago on Monday but advisers to both of the general election rivals say they do not expect Mr Obama to consider Mr McCain for an administration job.
The meeting with Mrs Clinton, revealed to The Associated Press yesterday, excited a burst of speculation that Mr Obama would transform the former first lady and his fierce campaign foe into one of his top Cabinet officials and the country's chief diplomatic voice. But where she stands in contention for the post came into question as other Democrats, also speaking on condition of anonymity about the private discussions, said Mr Richardson was brought in as well.
The two are not the only candidates Mr Obama has talked to about the job, Democrats said. One senior Obama adviser said the president-elect has given no evidence whom he is favouring for the post. Mr Obama asked Mrs Clinton directly whether she would be interested in the job, said one Democrat, who cautioned that it was no indication that he was leaning toward her. Mr Obama was deciding on his presidential staff as well, naming a longtime friend, Valerie Jarrett, as a White House senior adviser. Mrs Jarrett met Mr Obama when she hired his wife for a job in the Chicago mayor's office years ago and has been a close confidante to the couple ever since.
Yesterday evening, Mr Obama attended a birthday party for Mrs Jarrett at a high-rise building in the city of Chicago. Mrs Clinton, a New York senator, addressed a transit conference in her home state and said emphatically: "I'm not going to speculate or address anything about the President-elect's incoming administration, and I'm going to respect his process." Mr Obama's aides say he would like to have Mr McCain as a partner with him on legislation they both have advocated, such as climate change, government reform, immigration and a ban on torture.
All this fits with an idea that Mr Obama often talked about on the campaign trail, as he praised the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as described by the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book Team of Rivals. "Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was: How can we get this country through this time of crisis?" Mr Obama said at one point.
President Lincoln appointed three of his rivals for the Republican nomination to his Cabinet. Mr Obama turned to one rival for vice president, picking the Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden even though Mr Biden had questioned whether Mr Obama had the experience to be president. In his first two weeks as president-elect, Mr Obama has struck a bipartisan tone. He paired a Republican and a Democrat to meet with foreign leaders this weekend on his behalf in Washington, for example.
It is far from clear how interested Mrs Clinton would be in being his secretary of state. She would face a Senate confirmation hearing that would certainly probe her husband's financial dealings - something the Clintons refused to disclose in the presidential campaign. But remaining in the Senate may not be Mrs Clinton's first choice, either, since she is a junior senator without prospects for a leadership position or committee chairmanship anytime soon.
Being secretary of state could give Mrs Clinton a platform for another run at the presidency in eight years. Mr Obama could also get assurances from her that she would not challenge him in four years. And, unlike the vice presidency that Mr Obama never seriously considered her for, as secretary of state she would serve at his pleasure. Mr Richardson is the governor of New Mexico and has an extensive foreign policy resume. He was the former US President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations and has conducted freelance diplomacy for the US in such hot spots as Sudan and North Korea.
Mr Richardson also served in Mr Clinton's Cabinet as energy secretary and angered his former boss when he endorsed Mr Obama after ending his own primary campaign this year. Another Democrat emerged as a possible contender for an administration post yesterday - the Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle was contacted by Mr Obama's transition team, according to a gubernatorial spokesman who did not disclose details.
Mr Doyle, a two-term governor and former state attorney general, was an early backer of Mr Obama. An alliance between Mr Obama in the White House and Mr McCain in the Senate could help both sides - Mr Obama by having a Republican ally on some issues and Mr McCain by helping rebuild his own power. The two men spoke about getting together when Mr McCain called Mr Obama to concede on the night of the election, advisers on both sides say.
The Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Mr McCain confidante, and the Republican Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat whom Mr Obama has chosen to be his White House chief of staff, also plan to be at Monday's meeting in Chicago. "It's well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality," Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter said in announcing the meeting.
Officials in Nebraska announced yesterday that Mr Obama has won an electoral vote there, making history in a state that has never split its electoral votes. Under the American system, voters cast ballots for small groups of electors from each state, who in turn vote for the president. After all remaining ballots were counted, Mr Obama emerged with a 3,325-vote lead over Republican John McCain in unofficial results in the second Congressional District, which includes the city of Omaha.
Nebraska, with five votes, and Maine are the only states that divide their electoral votes by congressional district. Mr Obama now has 365 electoral votes to Mr McCain's 162. Missouri, with 11 electoral votes, is still too close to call. Election officials there have until Tuesday to finish counting. *AP