WASHINGTON - If President Bush is re-elected, who will stay and who will go?
Given the election year focus on the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism, it's not surprising that most of the speculation focuses on the foreign policy and national security jobs - and on the fates of those who've been the primary players in shaping the administration's foreign policy doctrine.
Have the internationalists such as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage run out of steam, tired of losing out to the neo-conservatives and hawks in the Defense Department and Vice President Dick Cheney's office?
Does Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stay or is there pressure on him to leave? Can any of the major architects of the war be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion in a second term?
Just as important, whom will Bush be able to attract to an administration that, as Brookings Institution presidential appointments specialist Paul C. Light says, will be "past its prime" by the end of its first year?
So go the quiet conversations around town. No one who knows the answers to these questions, of course, will say. But here's a look at some of the rumblings about what a Bush second-term Cabinet could look like.
One thing is certain: It will look different. Light says there is typically a substantial number of resignations at the start of any second term: "It makes the exodus from South Florida during the hurricane look like child's play."
State - Republicans say they expect Powell and Armitage to depart, although in the past several weeks Powell has left the door open to remaining, saying he hasn't made a decision yet.
Powell was such a popular and respected figure that Bush, before he was elected in 2000, assured voters that the former Joint Chiefs chairman would be part of his Cabinet. But the secretary and his deputy, considered moderates who were wary of pre-emptive action in Iraq, lost the major battles over the war to neo-conservatives within the administration in well publicized clashes.
Until several weeks ago, many thought the top diplomatic job, if vacant, could go to L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion. But his standing within the Bush team dropped sharply when, earlier this month, he criticized the administration for policy and tactical errors in Iraq.
A favorite to succeed Powell is national security adviser Condoleezza Rice - unless she decides to return to California to run for office or return to academia. Although the Bush confidante and gym partner could face some opposition because of controversy surrounding statements she made in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Senate Democrats say they believe she would most likely be confirmed, especially if Bush wins by a healthy margin.
Recently, attention has also focused on former Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri, the new ambassador to the United Nations. Danforth, who served as Bush's special envoy to Sudan at the start of the administration and spent 18 years in the Senate, would bring stature and credibility to the position. Some think that, at 68, he might not want to take on such an all-consuming post. But they also think that, if asked, he wouldn't refuse.
Other possibilities: Danforth's predecessor at the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, a career diplomat who serves as the current ambassador to Iraq; or, a bolder choice, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has accused the administration of "incompetence" in its handling of postwar Iraq.
Defense - Republicans believe Rumsfeld would like to stay on at the Pentagon for a year or two, until things settle down in Iraq and he can leave on a higher note.
Less clear is the future of his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the war. Given the current chaos in Iraq, Democrats and Republicans alike say it is unlikely Wolfowitz could be confirmed by the Senate to succeed his boss - or step up to any other Cabinet-level position. The former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies has most likely peaked, say GOP insiders, and will either stay put or leave.
One name surfacing in Republican circles as a replacement for Rumsfeld whenever he leaves: NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, who joined the administration as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and served as secretary of the Navy under the first President Bush. Another name: national security adviser Rice, who is said to be more interested in heading the Pentagon than State.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has been talked about, too, to run either a Bush or a Kerry Defense Department. But conventional wisdom from both sides of Capitol Hill says that, either way, it's a bad fit. Plus, McCain has said he doesn't want the job. He's more likely to stay put in the Senate - a better perch from which to speak one's mind, as he is wont to do, and possibly to launch a 2008 presidential bid.