WASHINGTON -- Inside the Beltway, you don't need the polls to tell you the Democrats are poised to descend upon the White House.
The "Plum Book," a half-inch-thick reference guide to the top jobs and salaries in the executive branch, has been sold out at the Government Printing Office for the last three months -- not so coincidentally, since the Democratic convention.
And all through the fall, Democratic fund-raisers, where party activists and "wannabes" have a chance to make themselves known through their pocketbooks, have been so oversubscribed that guests have had to sit on the floor in hotel ballrooms. "Notice the way people happen to have their resumes in their pocket just in case," quips Democratic consultant Ann Lewis.
Quietly, cautiously, perhaps silently, Democrats have been contemplating the fact that they finally may get their turn at bat. And with victory so close they can practically taste it, they've begun to jockey for position and think about landing one of the roughly 6,000 new jobs that would become available with a change in administration.
"All the Democrats are coming out of the woodwork," says Cindy Trutanic, a Washington lawyer who attended a Clinton fund-raiser this month and admits she'll be hustling for a job at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
At higher levels, few will publicly admit to coveting a spot in a possible Clinton administration. Most will tell you that, being a superstitious bunch, they don't want to assume anything and start picking out draperies just yet -- even in the final, euphoric days of the race. The Clinton staffers working on "transition" keep a decidedly low profile.
"Scores of people would willingly drop one '0' from their income to go back in government," says Stuart Eizenstat, a top Washington lawyer who's working on the Clinton campaign. "But everybody is afraid to even contemplate this. No one wants to take anything for granted. If there are visions of sugarplums dancing in anyone's head, they still have to keep them out of sight."
But clearly, there is a feeling of hope, possibility and opportunity crackling through the party these days. "People are wondering, 'Hmmm, did I get in early enough? Do I know him well enough?' " says Mark Siegel, former Democratic National Committee executive director.
A Washington real estate agency has already sent notices to some neighborhoods telling residents to list their homes as soon as possible. And some party activists outside Washington have made visits to the nation's capital to start networking and get a feel for the place.
A spokesman for the government bookstores says operators have received about 100 calls a month since mid-summer requesting the "Plum Book," officially titled "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions." (A new electronic version of the book -- "configured in dBase, Lotus or ASCII format" -- is being advertised in Capitol Hill newspapers).
"I think they all have their positions and offices picked out," says Democratic political consultant Greg Schneiders. "This looks like the best chance for many of these folks to come along in their lifetime."
A number of Democrats have been holed up during the last three administrations in law firms, think tanks and consulting firms, pulling in hefty salaries as they've watched the GOP inaugural parades go by. Some of them, such as Mr. Eizenstat and Warren Christopher, who headed Mr. Clinton's search for a running mate, held positions in the Carter administration and would likely be considered for higher-ranking posts this time around.
In even greater number are those who see this as their first and best shot at government service.
"We grew up in the '60s and went to high school at a time when John F. Kennedy was saying, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' Just because people went to law firms doesn't mean they've forgotten those ideals," says Thomas S. Williamson Jr., a Washington lawyer and close friend of Bill Clinton's. "Thousands of baby-boomer professionals are looking forward to an opportunity to serve in an administration that they view as compatible with their beliefs.
"You can feel it and sense it. People say, 'Wouldn't it be great to have Democrats in the White House again?' But if you read between the lines, what they're really saying is maybe there will be an opportunity for them to enter government."
In his law office alone, the large, blue-chip firm of Covington & Burling, Mr. Williamson says he's sensed interest "at all levels -- from young associates, mid-level attorneys and partners." Many have been volunteering for the Clinton campaign; some have even taken leaves of absence from their jobs.
As a personal friend and fund-raiser for Mr. Clinton who coordinated a lawyers group and worked on the platform committee, Mr. Williamson has received calls from colleagues all over town and has even been handed resumes from those who want them passed along to Little Rock, Ark.
"There was a surge of calls and letters after the convention," he says.
Mr. Eizenstat notes that, with Democrats only in the White House for four out of the last 24 years, there would likely be a "record demand for a limited number of slots" in a Clinton administration. "Two whole generations of people have never had the chance to serve in the executive branch," he says.
Most of the likely appointees would come from those long involved in the campaign -- including advisers from such think tanks as the Brookings Institution and the Progressive Policy Institute who have had a hand in crafting the nominee's position papers -- and Mr. Clinton's vast circle of friends in policy-making and governing positions.
Through his chairmanship of the Democratic Leadership Council and 12 years as governor, Mr. Clinton is close to the seasoned pols of the party, as is his running mate, Sen. Al Gore.
"Bill Clinton comes into this with a larger personal reference file than most people," says Ms. Lewis. "It's unlikely he'll be appointing strangers to top positions. This is not Ronald Reagan coming to Washington."
Since the beginning of fall, when the Democratic lead began to gel, there have been subtle signs of lobbying efforts by those hoping to be among the appointed. Job applications sometimes masquerade as complimentary op-ed pieces or flattering quotes about the candidate, insiders note. And a number of names have started circulating in newspaper columns and political newsletters as likely members of a Cabinet -- a tactic considered unabashed advertising.