President-elect Barack Obama has interviewed primary election rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson to be his secretary of state, Democrats said Friday, as he weighed the decision on folding former foes into his new administration.
Obama had secret meetings in Chicago with Richardson on Friday and a day earlier with Clinton, said several Democratic officials. He plans to meet there Monday with his Republican opponent, John McCain, but advisers to both of the general election rivals say they don't expect Obama to consider McCain for an administration job.
The meeting with Clinton, revealed to The Associated Press on Friday, excited a burst of speculation that 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 Richardson was brought in as well.
One source told CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante that perhaps this is just an honorable mention - a way of rewarding Sen. Clinton for her help during the campaign. But Clinton's visit to Chicago - on what her office will describe only as private business - signals that she may be under serious consideration.
The two are not the only candidates Obama has talked to about the job, Democrats said. One senior Obama adviser said the president-elect has given no evidence whom he is favoring for the post.
Obama asked 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.
Lanny Davis, a longtime friend of the Clintons who served as White House special counsel in Bill Clinton's administration, said on CBS' The Early Show Friday that Clinton would be an "outstanding" secretary of state.
"As first lady, she traveled the world, won friends in the third world, as well as among our allies in Europe, as an emissary to the president and as a close councilor to President Clinton," said Davis. "So she is a very special person because of her ability, as I said, to look at the world through other people's eyes, which is what we've lacked in the last eight years, and to reengage with Europe and our allies, as well as with hostile governments who need to be engaged and need to have relations open."
Obama was deciding on his presidential staff as well, naming longtime friend Valerie Jarrett as a White House senior adviser. Jarrett met 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.
Obama was silent and out of sight in Chicago. On Friday evening, he attended a birthday party for Jarrett at a high-rise building in the city. 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."
Obama's aides say he would like to have 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 Obama often talked about on the campaign trail, as he praised the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as described by 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?" Obama said at one point.
Lincoln appointed three of his rivals for the Republican nomination to his Cabinet. Obama turned to one rival for vice president, picking Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden even though Biden had questioned whether Obama had the experience to be president.
In his first two weeks as president-elect, 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's far from clear how interested Clinton would be in being his secretary of state. She'd 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 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 Clinton a platform for another run at the presidency in eight years. Obama could also get assurances from her that she wouldn't challenge him in four years.
And, unlike the vice presidency that Obama never seriously considered her for, as secretary of state she would serve at his pleasure.
Richardson is the governor of New Mexico and has an extensive foreign policy resume. He was President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations and has conducted freelance diplomacy for the U.S. in such hot spots as Sudan and North Korea.
Richardson also served in Clinton's Cabinet as energy secretary and angered his former boss when he endorsed Obama after ending his own primary campaign this year.
Another Democrat emerged as a possible contender for an administration post Friday - Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was contacted by Obama's transition team, according to a gubernatorial spokesman who did not disclose details. Doyle, a two-term governor and former state attorney general, was an early backer of Obama.
An alliance between Obama in the White House and McCain in the Senate could help both sides - Obama by having a Republican ally on some issues and McCain by helping rebuild his own power. The two men spoke about getting together when McCain called Obama to concede on the night of the election, advisers on both sides say.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a McCain confidant, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat whom 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 spokesman Stephanie Cutter said in announcing the meeting.
Also Friday, officials in Nebraska announced that 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 Friday, Obama emerged with a 3,325-vote lead over Republican John McCain in unofficial results in the 2nd 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.
Obama now has 365 electoral votes to McCain's 162.
Missouri, with 11 electoral votes, is still too close to call. Election officials there have until Tuesday to finish counting.