Since 1902

Sarah Baxter in Roanoke, Virginia

With the economy on the brink of recession and the country in the midst of two foreign wars, Barack Obama is considering appointing a cabinet of stars to steer America through potentially its worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s if he wins the presidency on November 4.

Obama has a well-regarded, close-knit team of domestic and foreign policy advisers who would follow him into the White House and key administration posts. But he is also being urged to make some high-profile appointments who would command the confidence of the country at such a troubled time.

"It’s important to send a signal," an Obama adviser said. "With a comparatively new person in office and the awful mess we’re in, these appointments are going to resonate around the world." Obama, 47, has been warning his supporters that the election is not over yet. "Don’t underestimate our ability to screw it up," he said last week. But should Obama win, he will not be short of big names to choose for his administration.

A host of well-known figures, including some Republicans, have indicated they would be willing to serve in some capacity as Obama begins to acquire a winner’s glow. From Senator John Kerry, the 2004 presidential candidate with hopes of becoming secretary of state, to Larry Summers, a former US Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator who has been tipped as defence secretary, there are plenty who have signalled their availability.

Obama is thought likely to cherry-pick a few high-profile names, while rewarding the loyalty and discretion of advisers such as his foreign policy expert Susan Rice who have served him so well throughout the campaign.

Prima donnas

"He has no patience whatsoever with prima donnas," said one leading Democrat policy adviser. "He’s surrounded himself with people who are pretty smooth in dealing with each other." All eyes were on Colin Powell, the former secretary of state under President George W Bush, to see if he would declare his support for Obama in an interview on Meet the Press, the flagship political television programme, today.

Powell is unlikely to return to the cabinet after the mauling he received over the Iraq war, but could serve as a special envoy abroad. He is regularly consulted by Obama on foreign policy and military matters, and said last year: "I always keep my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service."

In last week’s debate against John McCain, his Republican opponent, Obama indicated that he would adopt a bipartisan approach to government, citing the Republican senator Richard Lugar, who worked with him on a bill to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, and General Jim Jones, the former Nato commander, as figures he admired.

With little more than two weeks until polling day, some leading Republicans suspect McCain is doomed. Meanwhile, the private life and health of John McCain came under renewed scrutiny yesterday in two leading newspapers which are backing Barack Obama for president.

A hostile profile of Cindy McCain in The New York Times presented a sombre portrait of a lonely wife, ill at ease in Washington and lacking the support of her husband through miscarriages and an addiction to painkilling drugs.

The Washington Post explored the chances of McCain’s skin cancer recurring under the ominous headline, "Questions linger". The paper commissioned biostatisticians at the National Cancer Institute to pore over the known facts about his illness and to check it against a national database of the survival rates of American cancer patients.

McCain’s health

After a detour into alarmist speculation by a group of antiMcCain doctors putting the 72-year-old candidate’s chances of dying from melanoma at up to 60%, the article concluded that his risk of dying in office was in the low single digits.

Cindy McCain, 54, a beer distribution heiress with an estimated fortune of more than $100m, has been spared some of the close inspection of a candidate’s wife because of media fascination with Sarah Palin, her husband’s running mate. But The New York Times made up for it with an in-depth account which suggested that she and her husband lead almost totally separate lives.

It revealed that she preferred to spend time at her high-rise beach apartment on the Pacific coast rather than with her husband and that when they met up at their ranch in Sedona, Arizona, at weekends he would spend much of the time working.