11. John Podesta
President and CEO, Center for American Progress
How convenient that the head of the transition happens to have his own wonk-filled think tank! His Center for American Progress (CAP) has been prepping the talent and white papers for a Democratic administration for the past five years. Though the ex-Bill Clinton chief of staff has said he’ll return to CAP after the transition, he’ll have protégés in every corner of the administration. (That his brother is a top Democratic lobbyist earns him bonus power points.)
12. James Steinberg
Dean, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
You don’t know him. But he could be the guy running your foreign policy—or, at least, the National Security Council. A veteran of the Clinton NSC, he doesn’t court the press, write many op-eds, or even live in D.C. (He’s been teaching in Texas for the last three years.) But he’s a trusted technocrat whom Obama increasingly leans upon. If Kerry lands at State, he could be an important counterweight, pushing Obama in a more centrist direction.
13. Pete Rouse
Chief of staff, Obama’s Senate office
After Tom Daschle’s defeat in 2004, he gifted Obama his savviest veteran staffer--perhaps the most effective aide on the Hill. Rouse, a legendary workaholic, helped Obama navigate his brief time in the Senate with an eye toward launching his presidential bid. After he finishes overseeing the transition, Rouse will likely return to the Hill--this time as Obama’s top lobbyist.
14/15. Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee
Economic policy director and chief economic adviser, Obama campaign
The twin lobes of Obama’s economic brain. Professor Goolsbee has the economic chops, but doesn’t always get politics (witness his legendary NAFTA gaffe). Furman, a protégé of Robert Rubin, is the cream of the Democratic policy-wonk crop--and, unlike most other tax nerds, he’s politically canny. Both are essentially centrists--Furman has defended free trade and even (sacre bleu!) Wal-Mart--but the policies they’ve helped author during the campaign have earned Obama the trust of the left. In Obama’s efforts to dig out of the recession, they’ll design the shovels.