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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Who will be the next Robert Gibbs?

By Chris Cillizza

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs's decision to step aside means that one of the most high profile jobs in the Obama Administration is now open.

But, who will get the gig?

Picking a new press secretary is a delicate business for the President Obama. Gibbs was a natural choice to serve as the Administration's first spokesman given his long connections to the president -- the two began working together during the 2004 Illinois Senate campaign -- and his background in communications.

Filling Gibbs's shoes could be tough. Why? Because Gibbs, unlike many past presidential press secretaries, had an extremely close relationship with Obama -- a tightness that gave his pronouncements from the podium that much more heft. When Gibbs spoke, everyone knew it came directly from the president. And, that matters.

At the same time, there is also an argument to be made that a healthy amount of distance between president and press secretary can be a good thing -- allowing the press secretary to be entirely honest with the press corps when he or she simply doesn't have access to certain types of information.

Sources familiar with the search suggest that there is strong interest in bringing in an outsider for the job, someone not considered "of" the Obama world. That outsider appeal is evident in the search for a replacement to Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff with former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, someone with few direct ties to Obama, apparently under serious consideration for the top job.

Here's an early handicapping of who might be the next Gibbs (ranked in order of likelihood):

* Outsider/Darkhorse: Senior aides are keeping tight-lipped on specific names but to a person all of them make clear that the search for Gibbs's replacement will extend beyond the walls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

* Jay Carney: The longtime reporter and Washington bureau chief for Time magazine signed on as Vice President Joe Biden's communications director in the Obama Administration. Carney is a steady, adult presence on the White House message team who is telegenic enough to carry such a high profile job. He is also a former reporter and, theoretically, enjoys more cordial relationships with the Fourth Estate than some of his colleagues who have been in politics all of their lives. One potential concern: Carney has never been a public-facing political spokesman before. And, historically, the job of White House press secretary hasn't been seen as a starter position.

* Bill Burton: Burton, currently deputy press secretary, is the regular fill-in for Gibbs at the podium. Burton's flawless pinch-hitting performances are evidence that he is up to the job. He also carries a strong political background -- he was communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 election cycle -- that could come in handy as the 2012 election becomes more and more a topic of interest to the press corps.

* Brad Woodhouse: Woodhouse, who is serving as communications director at the Democratic National Committee at the moment, would be a press secretary in the mold of Gibbs. Southern, wry and politically minded, Woodhouse and Gibbs are personal friends. Woodhouse is eminently quotable and has strong relations with the national press corps thanks to years of flacking for candidates and campaigns. The one knock on him? He might be too political for the official White House staff.

* Jen Psaki: Psaki is a fast riser within the world of Democratic communicators, moving from a spokesperson role at the DCCC during the 2006 cycle to deputy communications director at the White House. The Obama inner circle has been criticized for its lack of women and elevating someone like Psaki to a more public role might quiet those critics. (Stephanie Cutter, who works in the White House on broad messaging for the president, was approached about taking on the press secretary job but declined.)

Are there other names we are missing? Add them in the comments section and we will update the post.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 5, 2011; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  White House  
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