The 30 people who matter most in Obama's Washington--in order.

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1. David Axelrod
Chief strategist, Obama campaign
At first, he professed no interest in trailing his guy to Washington. But that’s increasingly hard to believe. Obama’s message manager could follow the Karl Rove path, surrendering his lucrative consulting business for an official post. But he might take the James Carville tack: work for the DNC but be omnipresent in the Oval Office. Although Axelrod doesn’t do policy, his knack for strategy will shape the key decision of the administration: Will Obama go for broke or play it safe? And there’s little doubt he’ll always have four digits on his mind: 2012.

2. Rahm Emanuel
House member, Illinois
Obama's chief of staff could be the Dick Cheney of his administration--the heavy with his hands in everything. Like Cheney, Rahmbo is respected, feared, and a formidable wonk. Emanuel might make an attractive chief of staff because of his reputation for fierce loyalty and his ability to corral the House Democrats. Those in Congress who don’t owe their jobs to him are terrified of him. That pick, like so much of Obama’s world, would bear Axelrod’s fingerprints: Ax signed the ketubah at Emanuel’s wedding.

3. Valerie Jarrett
CEO, Habitat Co.; senior adviser, Obama campaign
The rap on Obama is that he’s low on hardcore loyalists capable of serving in top positions. That’s what makes Jarrett so essential. During the campaign, they spoke daily--and she served as strategist, ambassador, and enforcer. With Obama’s increasing reliance on old Washington--and Clinton--hands, he’ll need at least one guardian of his interests in the room. There’s talk of making her secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but trouble at some Habitat-managed housing projects could make her confirmation hearing messy. Obama is more likely to want her floating around the White House.

4. Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House
If Obama fails early, the unruly House Democrats would be the most likely cause. Conservative Dems--and they are plentiful these days--will want Obama to balance his budgets; liberals will be aching for maximalism on all fronts; and 2010-focused worrywarts in the leadership will cry for caution. That means the fate of Obama’s presidency will largely rest with Madame Speaker’s disciplinary skills. Fortunately, she’s a true pitbull with lipstick. More fixer and tactician than San Francisco idealist, she will haunt the backrooms, cutting deals and threatening to cut off legs.

5. Tom Daschle
Former Senate majority leader, South Dakota
The former majority leader didn’t just bet early on Obama; he lent him his establishment imprimatur and his entire political operation, which proved to include some of the campaign’s most innovative strategists. Since leaving the Senate, Daschle has turned himself into a health care maven. He may not have won the chief of staff job he so coveted--his wife’s lobbying made for terrible optics--but he could still end up in the White House, or as secretary of Health and Human Services. Either way, he’s sure to be among the central figures in shaping one of Obama’s top priorities. (And his wife won’t be hurting for clients.)


Next: Larry Summers, Joe Biden, and more.

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By TNR Staff