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Obama begins to form a team

The president-elect names a transition crew and asks Rep. Rahm Emanuel to fill a key White House role.

November 06, 2008|Peter Nicholas and Tom Hamburger | Nicholas and Hamburger are Times staff writers.

Union officials already are pressing to install favorites in the Labor secretary job. Two prospects are former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and David E. Bonior. Labor officials also are discussing pro-labor executive orders they want to see signed in the first hours of an Obama presidency.

As Obama's government begins to take shape, powerful interest groups in Washington are maneuvering for advantage.

The National Assn. of Manufacturers and the AFL-CIO held dueling news conferences Wednesday in Washington to promote their often conflicting agendas.

The sunnier of the two meetings took place at AFL-CIO headquarters, across Lafayette Square from the White House. Union President John Sweeney touted labor's role in Obama's victory.

He announced that the AFL-CIO's top priority was passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize and collectively bargain.

In a separate news conference, the manufacturers president, former Michigan Republican Gov. John Engler, signaled resistance. Speaking on a panel with other business advocates, Engler warned that it would be dangerous to begin a new administration with a dispute over labor law.

For now, the Emanuel selection is causing the biggest stir. Republicans are mixed in their verdicts. Richard N. Bond, former head of the Republican National Committee, said he hoped Emanuel would stay in Congress rather than help the new president. Bond said that Emanuel, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, is savvy enough to keep Obama from self-destructing.

"I fervently pray he stays right where he is," he said. "He's pound-for-pound the smartest guy I know in politics. And he would absolutely prevent Obama from the overreach which otherwise is destined to occur" -- to the ultimate political benefit, Bond hopes, of the GOP.

Other Republicans see Emanuel as too combative a figure for the job, especially given Obama's promise to end the partisan gamesmanship. As a former head of the party's congressional campaign operations, Emanuel's mission was defeating Republicans -- and he did it with relish.

A Republican congressional leadership aide, who did not want to be quoted by name talking about a member of Congress, said: "President-elect Obama campaigned on the promise of moving beyond politics and bringing real change to Washington. Rahm Emanuel is one of the most partisan Democrats of the Clinton and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi years."

With election results still dribbling in, the magnitude of Obama's victory is becoming more clear.

He beat McCain 52% to 46% nationwide, accordingly to nearly complete returns, making Obama the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson to win more than a bare majority of the popular vote.

The Illinois senator has won 28 states and the District of Columbia, giving him at least 349 electoral votes, well in excess of the 270 needed to win the White House. One of the hardest-fought states, Missouri, was tipping toward Sen. John McCain's column late Wednesday. It would give the Arizonan 173 electoral votes.

The only other state outstanding was North Carolina, a longtime Republican bastion, where Obama ran an aggressive and unexpectedly strong campaign. He was ahead by about 12,000 votes out of more than 4.2 million cast, with a number of provisional ballots still to be tallied. The state has 15 electoral votes.

In Congress, Democrats picked up at least five Senate seats, with four races still to be decided, and gained at least 19 seats in the House, with the outcome of some contests still pending.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, P.J. Huffstutter and David Willman contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

An Obama Cabinet

President-elect Barack Obama set to work Wednesday assembling his Cabinet, which includes the heads of the 15 executive departments. Other officials, such as the vice president and the president's chief of staff, are considered Cabinet-rank. The tradition of a Cabinet dates back to George Washington. Here are some of the people who have been mentioned for top spots in Obama's Cabinet:

[please see photo captions]

White House Chief of Staff

Obama has offered Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel the post, but if Emanuel declines, Obama may go for one of the following candidates:

[please see photo captions]

Times reporting by Kate Linthicum

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