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Daley to help Obama move to the center?

By Ed Hornick, CNN
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New White House Chief of Staff
  • William Daley was appointed to be White House chief of staff Thursday
  • Daley is on the executive committee at J.P. Morgan Chase
  • He was a commerce secretary in the Clinton administration

Washington (CNN) -- William Daley, a member of an influential political family, has been a fixture in Washington politics and in the business community.

And that experience that will serve him well now that he has been named President Obama's chief of staff, political observers say.

"President Obama has made a brilliant choice in naming William Daley ... and his selection sends a clear signal that he intends to govern and campaign from the center over the next two years," said Jonathan Cowen, president of the self-described moderate organization Third Way.

Daley, 62, is a member of Third Way's board.

The Chicago native was a commerce secretary during the Clinton administration and widely regarded as the force behind getting the NAFTA agreement passed through the Republican-controlled Congress.

Although he's never been elected to political office, he has certainly helped with the family business -- advising his brother Richard M. Daley, the longtime mayor of Chicago.

He also has strong ties to Obama, having served on the Obama-Biden White House transition team in 2008. His last foray into presidential politics was as the chairman for Al Gore's 2000 campaign.

The chief of staff is in charge of White House staff and operations, and is a senior adviser to the president.

Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to then-House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, said Daley is "perfect for the job," adding that he has an "impressive combination of stature and substance and political smarts."

Daley has plenty of experience in the business community. He's Midwest chairman for JPMorgan Chase Co. Previously, he was president of SBC Communications from 2001 to 2004.

White House staff shake-up

That experience, many say, will be important as the administration and Congress tackle issue No. 1: jobs.

"In selecting Daley, President Obama has hit the trifecta: a top-notch manager, a pro-growth business leader and a moderate Democrat who knows how to work across the aisle," Cowen added. "Bill Daley is an experienced manager who has run agencies and presidential campaigns; he has the business credentials to help the White House continue to heal the breach between the administration and the private sector."

Another positive aspect for a Daley appointment? His good relationship with Republicans.

"I talked to a lot of Republicans. None of them had anything critical to say of Bill Daley," Erick Erickson, CNN contributor and editor of the conservative Red State blog, told CNN's "John King, USA" on Monday. "They all kind of have the slap-on-the-forehead, said this would be a great pick."

A criticism that has popped up is that he is the embodiment of Chicago-style politics -- for which previous chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now running to become Chicago's mayor, was criticized by Republicans.

"And you can already anticipate the criticism on the right, too, which is Chicago, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago," said John Avlon, a Daily Beast political analyst and CNN contributor. "Politics is perception."

Some liberals are suspicious of Daley's close ties to the business community and are concerned about a shift to the center.

"This was a real mistake by the White House," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both independent and Democratic voters.

"If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012."

A Democratic source compared Daley to James Baker, who served as chief of staff and Treasury secretary in the Reagan administration and chief of staff and secretary of state in the first Bush administration. The source said "he'd be the perfect 'campaign' chief of staff" because he's a shrewd player and can run the White House while keeping an eye on the president's 2012 prospects.

Pete Rouse, who was Emanuel's deputy, filled the position after his boss' departure.

Though sources said Rouse was a leading contender for the permanent job, others pointed out that he lacked the political skills to deal with a divided Congress and to make the rounds on television to defend the president's positions.

"He's the insider's insider who makes everything work at the White House," CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger said. "And what it tells you is that they're thinking that they need an outside man (Daley) as they head into the 2012 election."

Daley is married with three children. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago and went on to receive a law degree from John Marshall Law School. Daley later practiced law at his firm Daley & George.

CNN's John King, Ed Henry and Dan Lothian contributed to this report.