This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Nahal Toosi on politico.com on October 19, 2020. The race to serve as Joe Biden’s secretary of state has already begun, and the signs are surprisingly obvious if you know where to look. Did you see the George Will column about why Biden should pick Chris Coons? Or the Jewish Insider story filled with quotes about how great the Delaware senator would be at Foggy Bottom? Or Coons’ essay in Foreign Affairs earlier this month? If you want to know more, supporters of Coons have crafted an informal five-page, bullet-pointed document making the case for why a future President Biden should name him America’s top diplomat. Another Democratic senator, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, may also be in the mix. He keeps popping up on panels about foreign policy, penning columns on international affairs and pushing bills that put him at odds with President Donald Trump on global issues. Murphy also happens to be a favourite of progressives trying to influence Biden’s personnel choices. His aides point out that Murphy has been speaking out on foreign policy for years, and that he’s simply passionate about the issue. Still, his frenzy of activity in recent months has not gone unnoticed by people in and around the Biden campaign. Then there are Bidenworld insiders who need no promotional campaign: Susan Rice, the hard-charging former national security adviser who was in the mix to serve as Biden’s vice-president and is widely assumed to be a lock for a top administration job; and Antony Blinken, the smooth-talking former deputy secretary of state who is now a top Biden campaign aide. How the Electoral College picks the winner In discussions with various foreign policy observers, POLITICO has heard around 10 names overall, from Foreign Service luminaries such as William Burns to way-outside-the-box picks like Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. Biden himself has offered few clues into his thinking, though his long history as a foreign policy specialist – and his campaign comments on the subject – suggests he would make diplomacy a priority. The former vice-president also tends to surround himself with a small coterie of trusted advisers, from family members like his sister Valerie to long-time aides like Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti – suggesting he’s unlikely to tap an outsider. “The president is going to want to pick somebody who obviously is qualified, but also can have a close working relationship with him,” said Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. “Secretaries of state are always more effective when they’re close to the president.” Aside from his personal comfort level, Biden also has to consider other factors, including: Who would face challenges being confirmed by the Senate? Who will constituencies like progressives want for the job? And what about the promises he’s made to have a diverse Cabinet? The Republican whisperer Of the potential candidates for the job, Coons, who now holds the Senate seat once held by Biden, comes closest to openly admitting he wants it. “Joe Biden and I have very similar, closely aligned views on foreign policy,” he said in a statement. “He’s got a lot of great folks from whom to choose, but if he were to consider me as well, I’d certainly be honoured.” In his messaging so far, Coons has cast himself as a bipartisan deal maker in Biden’s mould – someone willing to reach across the proverbial aisle to craft a foreign policy that appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike. “For the United States to play a steady, stabilising role in world affairs, its allies and adversaries must know that its government speaks with one voice and that its policies won’t shift dramatically with changing domestic political winds,” Coons argued in an October 7 essay in Foreign Affairs , titled “A Bipartisan Foreign Policy is Still Possible”. Trump vs Biden: where they stand on key US election issues The informal document Coons’ supporters have put together notes, among other things, his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his interest in African affairs. It also points out that Coons has good relationships with Republicans, suggesting that he’ll have a relatively easy time getting Senate approval. The left’s man Murphy, meanwhile, has aligned himself with the increasingly outspoken progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Progressives are not only intent on ousting Trump, they want to influence Biden’s personnel choices, knowing that can shape his policy. Their vision – which calls for a reduction in military spending, more emphasis on diplomacy and putting economic issues more at the centre of foreign policy – appears to have influenced Biden’s foreign policy platform. Murphy has raised his profile in recent years, using his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call for a fresh approach to the foreign affairs budget and draw attention to conflicts in places like Yemen. He has appeared in a variety of foreign policy forums throughout the 2020 campaign, a guest of groups like the Council on Foreign Relations. He drew ire from Trump for meeting with Iran’s foreign minister earlier this year, a session he defended by saying, “It’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies.” Murphy also is the driving force behind legislation – rejected by Trump – that restricts US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which, like Iran, is involved in the Yemen war. A year ago, Murphy published an essay titled “How to Make a Progressive Foreign Policy Actually Work”. It was something of a call for humility and pragmatism on both sides of the burgeoning debate between progressives and establishment Democrats over foreign policy. Its impact on the debate itself has been limited, but it helped fan questions about Murphy’s intentions. “Progressives should rethink their reflexive opposition to international trade agreements,” Murphy argues in one section. “Yes, a progressive president should fight for greater worker and environmental standards in trade agreements like [the Trans Pacific Partnership], but it would be foolish to simply cede economic hegemony in Asia to China by refusing to try to reconstruct a US-Asia trade agreement.” Murphy’s activities have drawn attention among Biden hands, but the senator’s aides play down the idea that he’s auditioning for Foggy Bottom. They point out that he’s been talking about foreign policy for years – he co-authored a Foreign Affairs essay back in 2015 titled “Principles for a Progressive Foreign Policy”. “He is honoured to serve the people of Connecticut in the United States Senate, and there’s a lot to be done in his current job to reassert Congress’ role in foreign policy,” said Jamie Geller, a Murphy spokesperson. “He will continue to work to ensure that US national security is informed and guided by progressive values at home and abroad.” How Joe Biden could end 2020 on election night The trusted hand If Biden wins, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic devastation is likely to consume his early months. Current and former US officials say that could lead him to choose a secretary of state with past experience at the State Department because the person wouldn’t need much on-the-job-training in Foggy Bottom. That makes Rice – an experienced foreign policy hand who’s held jobs all the way from junior NSC staffer to top Africa diplomat to UN ambassador to national security adviser – an appealing option for secretary of state. She and Biden are said to have a warm relationship, though they disagreed over how to deal with tumult in places like Egypt and Libya when Biden was vice-president. As a measure of his esteem, Biden seriously considered Rice as a potential running mate but went instead with California Senator Kamala Harris. Rice, who is black, also is one of the few women and people of colour being mentioned as a potential chief US diplomat. Getting Rice confirmed as secretary of state could be difficult. Republicans long ago cast her as a villain, alleging she misled the public about the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a US ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Rice has pointed out that she was simply sharing talking points prepared by intelligence officials, but Republicans have repeatedly dismissed her defences. The political assaults were believed to be why her young daughter temporarily complained of having hallucinations, Rice wrote in a memoir published last year. The attacks prompted Rice to take herself out of the running to be Obama’s second term secretary of state, becoming national security adviser instead. More recently, Trump and his allies have alleged that Rice was part of a broader conspiracy to undermine the president. They claim she acted improperly when she requested the identities of some Americans referenced in intelligence reports who turned out to be Trump associates. Rice insists she did nothing wrong and came across the names as part of her routine duties as national security adviser; a Justice Department probe into the so-called unmasking of Trump aides quietly wrapped up in recent weeks with no charges filed and no public report. Rice declined to comment for this story via a spokesperson. Although she’s active on Twitter, appears on television as a Biden surrogate and writes columns for The New York Times , she’s not openly saying she wants the role of chief diplomat – but she’s not deflecting the idea, either. The candidates, the issues, the polls … and China The Biden insider Rice’s top rival could be Blinken, 58, a long-time Biden aide and a key member of his 2020 campaign team. Blinken declined to comment for this article, but he was practically bred for the job: He's a polished Harvard graduate whose father , Donald, also a Harvard graduate, was an investment banker who served as a US ambassador to Hungary. The younger Blinken attended high school in Paris, has worked as a journalist and as a lawyer, and has held positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He’s also spent time on Capitol Hill, where he was Democratic staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair. Blinken has been a key intermediary for Biden throughout the campaign; he meets on a regular basis, for instance, with a handful of progressive groups trying to shape Biden’s foreign policy. During the Obama years, Blinken served as deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state. But while Blinken would be fluent in State Department matters, foreign policy doyens expect Biden will want him close by in the White House, possibly as national security adviser. Don’t count them out Other prominent Obama-era appointees who could be in the running, foreign affairs analysts say, include: Samantha Power, who served on the National Security Council and as US ambassador to the United Nations; Tom Donilon, a former Obama national security adviser who has long known Biden; and Wendy Sherman, a key architect of the Iran nuclear deal who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Some current and former diplomats say Biden should seriously consider tapping a current or former Foreign Service officer as his secretary of state. That would signal to State Department employees that he’s got their backs. Under Trump, many US diplomats have been marginalised and cast as a “deep state” determined to wreck the president’s agenda. Trump has also repeatedly tried to slash the State Department’s budget by as much as a third, but Congress has blocked that. “It’s critical that the next secretary of state not just be the diplomat-in-chief but also be able to repair the State Department after the damage the Trump administration has done,” a former Obama-era State Department official said. Among the favourite potential candidates with deep department ties is William Burns, a long-time Foreign Service officer who served as deputy secretary of state under Obama. He is now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Another possible Foreign Service-related choice is Nicholas Burns, whose positions at the State Department included undersecretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush years. He now teaches at Harvard. While neither is openly campaigning for the secretary of state position, both are overseeing or involved in projects that tackle big-picture questions about where US foreign policy is heading. Nicholas Burns’ initiative, called the American Diplomacy Project, is designed to produce a non-partisan report after the election that lays out how “to rebuild the Foreign Service for the next half-century,” according to an announcement in April. At Carnegie, William Burns has been involved with a project titled “Making US Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class”. The project addresses what is at times a seeming disconnect between US foreign policy choices and economic decisions that affect ordinary Americans. In an essay he co-authored for Foreign Affairs , William Burns laid out the stark challenge facing whoever is chosen as Biden’s secretary of state. “After four years of relentless attacks by the Trump administration and decades of neglect, political paralysis, and organisational drift, US diplomacy is badly broken. But it is not beyond repair, at least not yet,” the essay states. “What is needed now is a great renewal of diplomatic capacity, an effort that balances ambition with the limits of the possible at a moment of growing difficulties at home and abroad.” Biden’s aides and allies would prefer not to discuss possible personnel choices – the election could still go either way, they say, and they are laser-focused on beating Trump above all else. Neither of the Burnses (who are not related) offered comment for this story. Donilon declined to comment, while Sherman and Power did not respond to requests for comment. Transition planning for a Biden presidency has been under way for months, with both paid and unpaid advisers playing a role. Recently, the transition team not-so-subtly told people who are already jockeying for Cabinet posts to knock it off. “Our focus between now and Election Day is on defeating Donald Trump and uniting our country to face the crises he has failed to address,” said Michael Gwin, a campaign spokesperson. “The work of rebuilding our government to face those challenges will come after that.” Read Politico’s story .