Vice-presidents and secretaries of state

I am just coming to the end of a week in Washington. Now that it seems pretty certain that the presidential race will be McCain v Obama, political gossip is turning to the second-order questions – who will be the vice-presidential candidates? Who will get the big cabinet jobs?

Barack Obama will be even less inclined to want Hillary Clinton on his ticket, after her tasteful suggestion that he might be assassinated – like Bobby Kennedy. The thought of having Bill hanging around the Obama White House is also not obviously attractive. Still, Hillary seems to want the job – and could yet force Obama’s hand. The Obama camp are desperate to unify the party and get on with battling McCain. What if Hillary threatened to take the fight all the way to the Democratic convention at the end of August – and even to make a speech there, arguing that Obama is unelectable and appealing to delegates to switch over to her camp?

And her price, for avoiding this nasty scenario? Why, the second spot on the ticket.

In most normal administrations, the post of secretary of state is actually more important than the vice-president slot. (Dick Cheney is the obvious exception to this rule). And there is plenty of Washington speculation about the State Department job as well.

Many McCain people seem to think that his pick for the State Department will be Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator who was actually Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 – but who has now left the Democratic Party and who recently published an article excoriating his own party for being weak-kneed appeasers (I paraphrase). McCain and Lieberman are very close.

This taste for picking mavericks from the other side of the political divide extends to the Obama camp as well – which has prompted speculation that he might choose Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, as his secretary of state. Hagel is a longstanding critic of the Iraq war.

But some Democrats might balk at giving such a plum job to a Republican. In which case Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is another front-runner for an Obama administration.