WASHINGTON—Barack Obama's presidential bid may have a well-cultivated insurgent feel, as the candidate both benefits and suffers politically from a relatively thin record of experience in Washington.
But the swelling team of policy advisers who have joined his campaign shows a politician grounded in his party's intellectual mainstream and well-connected within the capital's Democratic establishment.
On foreign policy alone, some 200 experts are providing the Obama campaign with assistance of some sort, arranged into 20 subgroups. On the domestic front, more than 500 policy experts are contributing ideas, campaign aides said. Veterans of previous election campaigns say the scale of the policy operation resembles the full-blown effort candidates typically undertake for a general election campaign rather than the more stripped-down versions common for the primary season.
Senior advisers include heavy hitters from the administration of President Bill Clinton, husband of Obama's primary rival.
Anthony Lake, Clinton's original national security adviser, is helping coordinate foreign policy. So is Susan Rice, a Clinton assistant secretary of state and protege of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Eric Holder, a former deputy attorney general, is among those providing expertise on legal policy.
"These are not outsiders trying to tear down the temple," said Philip Zelikow, a former senior Bush administration foreign policy official and executive director of the Sept. 11 commission.
"If you guess that he's surrounded himself with people who are highly ideological, left-wing or dovish, you would guess wrong," added Zelikow, now a history professor at the University of Virginia. "These folks cannot easily be typecast by ideology."
Free-market economic team
Key economic advisers include a few Washington veterans such as Michael Froman, a Citigroup executive and former chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Cabinet member most closely identified with the Clinton administration's pro-free trade, business-friendly policies.
There are also several scholars from prestigious universities whose approaches are anchored in dominant market-oriented economic thought. One is Austan Goolsbee, a 38-year-old star University of Chicago Business School professor and New York Times columnist with centrist Democratic views who has argued for eliminating tax returns for many Americans with simple finances.
Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, described Obama's top economic advisers as "mainstream with a dash of creativity."
"These are people who think new thoughts -- within the mainstream, new without a capital N," said Blinder, now a professor at Princeton University.
The campaign policy team gathered around Obama is hardly a shadow Cabinet. If he wins the nomination, other Democratic policy experts who now are neutral or allied with a different candidate will gravitate toward him. If he's elected, still more will join his circle.
But the makeup of the group, and the way in which Obama deliberates with its members, offers a window onto how he might operate as president. Many of them surely would graduate to influential roles in an Obama administration. Their discussions of the broad range of issues a presidential candidate must address provide an early if imperfect drill for decision-making in the Oval Office.
The worldviews of the advisers candidate George W. Bush gathered around him turned out to predict his foreign policies better than his campaign rhetoric that America should be "humble" in the world and avoid commitments to nation-building.
Such architects of the Iraq war as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice and Richard Perle all were influential policy advisers to Bush's presidential campaign. Colin Powell made important public appearances on behalf of candidate Bush but remained distant from the campaign's foreign policy deliberations, foreshadowing the role he would play in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Obama built relationships with high-powered policy experts even before he was elected to the Senate.
Goolsbee first met Obama, then a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, in the faculty social world. University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, two of the nation's leading liberal legal scholars, have relationships with Obama respectively dating back to the University of Chicago faculty lounges and Obama's days at Harvard Law School. Lake began giving Obama informal foreign policy advice even before Obama won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.