MCCAIN'S WHITE HOUSE

Advisers say John McCain is eager to create an administration drawn from the ranks of people beyond the Beltway and filled with more than a token Democrat.

McCain has tapped former Navy Secretary John Lehman to lead planning for a potential transition. Lehman, a friend, is being assisted in identifying players in a new administration by veteran Washington lobbyist William Timmons and William Ball, another former Navy secretary.

The challenge of stocking an administration may be particularly acute for McCain, who has clashed with many leaders in his party establishment and the Bush administration. He keeps counsel with only a tight group of advisers.

Priorities will be filling the Cabinet posts dealing with the global financial crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several Republicans predicted that McCain would try to prevail on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain at the Pentagon, while others expect a quicker departure for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Many also see a big role in a McCain administration for his close friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., perhaps as secretary of state.

Gates said again Friday that he's not interested in remaining in his post after Jan. 20, though he has not completely shut the door. Other possibilities for the Pentagon job include Lehman and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, whose oft-stated skepticism about the Iraq war could help McCain signal a break from Bush.

Several close to McCain said they think it's unlikely he would keep Paulson at Treasury, given the campaign's contention that the Bush administration's response to the financial crisis has been focused too much on protecting Wall Street rather than homeowners and consumers. If McCain were to look for a new Treasury secretary, one likely candidate would be Robert Zoellick, who served as one of McCain's top issues advisers between stints as deputy secretary of state and World Bank president. Zoellick could also be a candidate for secretary of State should McCain decide Lieberman is too valuable as a Senate ally.

Some Republicans think McCain would go for an outsider at Treasury, perhaps New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has long shared a close friendship with the Arizona senator. McCain has also heaped praise on a number of business leaders, such as Cisco Systems' John Chambers, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay.

A few advisers are pushing McCain to consider someone like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who mixes business experience with political skills.