While the nation's highest court considered who will serve in the nation's highest office, advisers for George W. Bush and Al Gore on Friday floated the names of candidates for two separate Cabinets only one of which will ever see the light of day.
From the splendor of their raised wooden dais, nine U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a narrow question of Florida election law while, hundreds of miles away, the state's Supreme Court dealt Gore a blow in Tallahassee: His petition for immediate recounts was denied.
"Why should the federal judiciary be interfering in what seems to be a very carefully though-out scheme" for electing people in Florida, asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter his just one in a series of questions about the high court's jurisdiction.
The scene outside the courtroom in Washington was less solemn. Hundreds of people from both camps demonstrated alongside those hoping for a taste of history or a dose of attention. Anti-abortion groups, feminists, the Falun Gong religious group all sharing the street scene with a man dressed as Uncle Sam. Darth Vader was there, too, rubbing elbows with a Roman soldier.
Then there was the man who drove past the menagerie, yelling out his car window: "No president! We don't need no president!"
And yet, the courts labored long to find one the closest White House race of the century was the subject of 42 separate lawsuits in Florida alone.
A circuit judge in that state is holding a hearing Saturday on the Gore petition to overturn Florida's results. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Bush partisan, has certified the Texas governor winner by 537 votes out of 6 million cast.
Florida's 25 electoral votes would give Bush one more than the 270 needed to claim the White House. If Gore wins in the courts, GOP state lawmakers were preparing to call a special session to appoint a slate of Bush electors.
Gore wants Harris ordered to accept the results of manually recounted ballots in three Democratic-leaning counties, where he hopes to pick up votes. He asked the Florida Supreme Court to have the ballots counted while Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls proceeds with the case. But the seven state justices all with Democratic ties refused late Friday.
Gore's team was preparing allies for a potential defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court, circulating word that the real battle is in Sauls' court. The winner of his election protest will certainly appeal, Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill were told, and the nation's highest court could get another crack at the case.
"The worse that happens is they add a few hundred votes to Bush's total. Still, the most important thing is whether or not they count the ballots," Gore campaign chairman William Daley said in a phone interview.
Daley is in line for a top White House job, most likely chief of staff if he wants it, according to several Gore advisers.
Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo also is a candidate for chief of staff, according to two senior Gore advisers who have discussed the potential transition with the vice president. The two sources also say:
Labor Secretary Alexis Herman is a candidate for several Cabinet posts, though some friends are urging her to go into the lucrative private sector.
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, are the leading candidates for secretary of state.
Former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. and Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., are under consideration for defense secretary, as is the current Pentagon chief, William Cohen, a Republican. Retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman John Shalikashvili has been mentioned as a possibility, though one of the officials said Gore is unlikely to put a former military leader in the Pentagon's top civilian post.
Treasury Secretary Larry Summers might keep his post if Gore wins, but the vice president also is looking at former budget chief Franklin Raines. He has asked transition chief Roy Neel to include GOP businessman in his search for candidates.
Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer has emerged as a candidate for attorney general.
For both Gore and Bush, the talk of transition is a political tool designed to give voters the impression they are ready to serve. Bush hopes to cement the perception that he is the most likely candidate to prevail in Florida, the vice president is trying to fight back with his own leaks and transition team photo-ops.
A poll conducted for the Pew Research Center showed that the percentage of Americans who think Bush will be the next president rose from 58 percent last week to 66 percent in polling conducted since Sunday. The percentage of Americans who believe that Bush won and Gore should concede increased from 36 percent to 45 percent in the same time frame.
While Gore is hoping for a quick legal victory to reverse those trends, Bush is making more progress on his transition.
He has already settled on two Cabinet posts retired Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condoleeza Rice as national security advisers. Andrew Card would be his chief of staff.
Senior Republicans are circulating scores of other candidates, both to tip Bush's hand and to pad his list with women, minorities and Democrats for political purposes. Just on Friday the top Republicans said:
Montana Gov. Marc Racicot is the top contender for attorney general, though other contenders include two female lawyers who have worked for Bush: Harriett Miers and Terry Lacie.
Kay James, who worked in the administration of Bush's father, is a prospect for the Health and Human Services posting. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is also under consideration.
Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who lost a bid for Missouri governor, has been mentioned as a potential transportation secretary. Some Bush advisers say Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania is a top candidate for defense secretary, but some down play his chances.