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Race for World Bank presidency enters new world of in-your-face campaigning Add to ...

As every presidential campaigner knows, the road to Washington is fraught with hazards. That’s especially true when you’re not traditionally expected to campaign for the presidency in question, or even to say that you want the job.

But that is changing fast. The presidency of the World Bank, the vast international aid organization with more than 10,000 employees in 168 countries, is seeking its twelfth president after the U.S. diplomat Robert Zoellick ends his term on July 1. The Washington-based job is selected by the White House, and has traditionally gone to an American.

What is normally a behind-the-scenes process with all the secrecy of Papal election was shaken up last month when the economist Jeffrey Sachs decided to shatter the ancient taboo and campaign openly for the job. In recent days he has used celebrity political endorsements – Bono and Bill Gates have both stumped for him – campaign speeches and aggressive use of his Twitter account to make the case for the job.

Nobody could have imagined this when world leaders sat down in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944 to create the Bank, which was first used to rescue Europe from the war’s devastation. Those were discreet diplomats. This weekend we saw the new world when Mr. Sachs tweeted: “Thanks, Timor-Leste, for endorsing me for World Bank President. We’re all inspired by your dynamic young country!”

Will in-your-face campaigning change the face of the Bank and propel Mr. Sachs into its troubled offices? “It is sure getting people talking,” says one senior World Bank official, “but I don’t think it’s making him any more popular within the Bank.”

Here are some of the reputed contenders for the title, and their odds of success:

Jeffrey Sachs

Famous economist, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, author of The End of Poverty. Gained fame in the 1990s for advising formerly communist countries how to make the transition to market economies; his “shock therapy” approach is considered a great success in Poland and a failure in Russia. Known more recently for his controversial anti-poverty projects, such as the “millennium villages” project in Africa.

Pro: Beloved by many developing-world leaders for his advocacy of higher foreign aid. American, but well regarded abroad. Campaigning actively, with support of many leaders.

Con: Campaigning actively. Hasn’t fully overcome 1990s reputation as a free-market fundamentalist. Does not have a reputation as a good manager of large organizations.

Insiders say: “He’s smart, and everyone knows his name. But I can’t name anyone at the Bank who would want to work for him.”

Hillary Clinton

United States Secretary of State, former Senator and First Lady.

Pro: American. Has President Barack Obama’s support, if she wants it. Well regarded in most poor countries. Good negotiator. Thought by some to be a strong manager of the State Department, an organization whose complexity rivals the bank’s.

Con: No indication that she actually wants the job. In fact, has specifically denied it in the past. Not an economist.

Insiders say: “The job is Hillary’s if she wants it. But it hardly looks like an upward career move for her. After running the world, why would she want this rat’s nest?”

Susan Rice

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Bill Clinton.

Pro: Would be the first African-American and first woman to run the bank. Well regarded for her analysis of international problems during her years at the Brookings Institution. Well regarded for her negotiating prowess and influence. Backed by Obama administration.

Con: No experience running a large organization, and not an economist.

Insiders say: “I’d put my money on Rice getting the job. She seems best positioned to deliver what the White House wants from the job.”

Indra Nooyi

Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Inc.

Pro: Her 11 years running the world’s second-largest food and beverage company have made her a corporate superstar, well regarded for changing large and complex organizations. As an Indian-born American woman, she would present an image that would be popular among the bank’s developing-world clients and with its Washington backers.

Con: It’s not clear that she wants the job, which would entail giving up a $15-million job for one earning about $750,000 in salary and benefits. Has no background in international development.

Insiders say: “It would look good, but it would be a clash of corporate cultures and she doesn’t seem to be seeking it.”

Lawrence Summers

Economist, former Harvard University president, served as Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and director of Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Was chief economist at the World Bank, 1991-1993.

Pro: Well-regarded economist, American, currently not employed. Experienced with the Bank’s inner workings. Close to the Obama White House.

Con: Blamed by some for overseeing the deregulations that contributed to the financial crisis. As president of Harvard, offended racial-minority and women’s groups by feuding with prominent black academics and suggesting that women were under-represented due to lower aptitude. Not as well known outside the United States.

Insiders say: “He knows the bank, but can you see Obama putting him in charge? It’s not the image they want to send.”

Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

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