Who will be who in the West Wing?

Aides will be crucial to keeping the new president on track and popular
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The Independent US

Get ready for a new season of The West Wing. Right now we have two scripts ready and either would be a cracker. Want a pretty vice-president stopping traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue when she visits the boss? Or a black president with an equally stunning wife?

Addicts of the television series may ache to get more of Allison Janney and Richard Schiff scrambling to keep their commander-in-chief out of the political soup, but they were just actors, of course. But life in the real West Wing can be every bit as unhinged, emotional and exhausting. Just ask George Bush and Karl Rove. Or Dick Cheney and Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

While speculation about how John McCain or Barack Obama would fill their cabinets is rife, less attention has been paid to the people they might keep close. Along with the vice-president, these people will guide the new president politically – keeping him popular – and on policy. The choices Mr Obama makes might be particularly crucial. He would come to the Big Job with scant experience even of Washington, let alone of the executive branch. Who is going to show him the secret tunnel that leads to the Treasury building or where cook hides the biscuits?

Probably, only the candidates know the names that will be on the West Wing doors if and when they are elected. But one thing seems likely. Many of their most trusted cohorts from the campaign trail will be along for the ride.

For sure, an Obama West Wing and a McCain West Wing would look quite different, and not just because the first would have Mr Obama's two daughters, aged seven and 10, running about. And while Mr Obama is likely to demand a tidy, no-leaks operation, some might expect the circle around Mr McCain to be more fractious and accident-prone. And maybe more press-friendly too.

Bound for the White House? The teams behind the presidential candidates

Barack Obama's team

David Axelrod

He would not come to Washington a ready-made celebrity. Axelrod, like his boss, is drama-averse and though willing to engage with the press when required, doesn't seek attention for himself. Lugubrious in his facial language, Axelrod got to know Obama when he was a community organiser in Chicago's South Side in the 1990s. Ax, as he is known, was later to take charge of political advertising in Obama's 2004 run for the US Senate in Illinois. Once a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, he has worked for assorted Illinois politicians such as Mayor Richard Daley and the late former Senator Paul Simon.

David Plouffe

Baby-faced and quietly spoken, the campaign manager has been steely in keeping Obama on message over the past two years. "He is the most focused, talented operative I've ever worked with," remarked the Democratic lobbyist and Clinton supporter Steve Elmendorf. Plouffe – pronounced Pluff – has worked for Senator Tom Harkin and was deputy chief of staff for the former House Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt. With Axelrod, he would have to keep Obama's approval ratings flying and prepare for the next big electoral test – the mid-term congressional elections in 2010.

Valerie Jarrett

Jarrett is less well known to the general public but is almost family to both Barack and Michelle Obama. Jarrett, 51, a lawyer who also has worked with Mayor Daley as planning and development commissioner, is the one person who can say anything to the Obamas without fear of causing offence. "She's totally loyal to both of them, can be totally honest with both of them," one Obama operative said. She is, however, already a very busy person, in charge, for instance, of trying to win the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.

Robert Gibbs

Gibbs could be brought into the White House to fill the all-important job of press spokesman, a crucial role in any administration. He began working for Obama in 2004 as communications director, a job he held on to when Obama arrived on Capitol Hill. Just 36, Gibbs already has plenty of experience in the harsh world of Washington politics. He helped on the press beat in the early days of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. Obama sometimes like to refer to him as his "one-person Southern focus group".

John Mccain's team

Steve Schmidt

As other loyal aides were jettisoned, Steve Schmidt emerged early in the summer as the man in charge of day-to-day operations of the McCain campaign and has been as disciplined as his predecessors were scatter-shot. With a shaved head, he also solidified his reputation for political ruthlessness, a trait he learnt from an old mentor, Karl Rove. Schmidt, who was among those encouraging McCain to pick Palin as his running mate, would be relied upon to crack the whip in a McCain White House to keep the policy message straight and on point.

Randy Scheunemann

McCain abhors lobbyists and Washington insiders, but he has relied on one of them for much of his foreign policy help. And Scheunemann would presumably expect to be taken into the McCain inner circle to perform the same duties if his man wins. A fully paid-up member of the neo-con brigade on foreign affairs, Scheunemann's Washington lobbying firm has overseas customers that include the government of Georgia. He was a founder and main mover of the now defunct Project for the New American Century, a group of like-minded neo-cons in Washington DC that was at the forefront of arguing the case for invading Iraq.

Nicolle Wallace

An obvious candidate for the spokesman's job in a McCain White House, she has done it before – briefly for George Bush when Dan Bartlett resigned last year. Wallace was working on air as a political analyst with CBS News until May this year, when she was recruited to handle the press for McCain. Reporters have sometimes been baffled by what have seemed to be her mixed messages. While recently defending the McCain ticket's emphasis on the former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, she told Fox News that "nobody cares about Mr Ayers".

Mark Salter

If not chief of staff then surely most trusted adviser, Salter and McCain go back a long way. He has co-written McCain's memoirs – starting with Faith of My Fathers. He is more responsible than anyone for shaping his political image. The two men are so close Salter is married to a former McCain secretary. He writes McCain's speeches too. Asked what his precise role would be, he replied: "I guess I'm 'of counsel'." Those who anger or disappoint the senator are liable to be lashed in emails from Salter, known as "Saltergrams".