WASHINGTON - There would be no shortage of candidates if President Clinton wanted a banker to succeed John P. LaWare as a Federal Reserve governor.
Mr. LaWare, who announced his retirement this week, urged the President to fill the post with a banker - and many observers think the President will do just that.
Among the candidates: Wachovia Corp.'s John G. Medlin and Keycorp's Victor Riley, both representing the new breed of regional institutions; and Chemical Banking Corp.'s John McGillicuddy and J.P. Morgan's Dennis Weatherstone, symbolizing the nation's big money-center banks.
Then there's Hugh McColl, chairman of NationsBank Corp. and an informal adviser to the President, and Richard Rosenberg, chairman of BankAmerica Corp. and a top expert in consumer banking issues.
Of course, bankers aren't the only choices. Some insiders have mentioned Alicia H. Munnell, the assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, and John G. Heimann, a former comptroller of the currency. There is also the possibility the President would pick an economist.
But there are some compelling reasons why the President may favor a banker. For starters, says industry consultant Karen Shaw, a banker could prove very palatable to the Republican-led Congress. And, she said, the last thing President Clinton needs now is another messy confirmation battle.
Topping most lists of banker candidates is Mr. Medlin, chairman of $39.1 billion-asset Wachovia, which is based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"He comes to mind because he knows the Federal Reserve System," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "He is very active with the Richmond Fed."
Mr. Medlin, who retired from management of the bank in 1993, brings some political experience: He has been advising Clinton administration officials on banking matters for the past two years.
"He understands Washington," said Orin Kramer, a former Carter administration official who now advises the Clinton administration on banking. "He has a good feel for economic policy. And he would be on anyone's list of the five most respected bankers in America."
The Medlin nomination would have a drawback - the banker hails from the same Fed district as Gov. Lawrence B. Lindsey. Although Congress requires governors to represent different Fed districts, industry officials said they believe the Clinton administration could finesse the conflict.
Mr. Medlin, who is 61, spent 34 years at the bank, 17 of them as chief executive officer. He is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Clinton could go for a nonbanker with substantial banking experience, said Cantwell Muckenfuss, a Washington-based lawyer with ties to the administration.
Mr. Muckenfuss cited Mr. Heimann, now with Merrill Lynch & Co.; H. Rodgin Cohen, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell, New York; and Richard Syron, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston who is now president of the American Stock Exchange.
BankAmerica's Mr. Rosenberg, 64, and NationsBank's McColl, 59, are two Democrats who are in the running.
However, analysts said President Clinton may find it difficult to lure these two away from their lucrative jobs. Fed governors make $133,600 a year, a far cry from the $13.7 million Mr. McColl alone earned last year.
"It is tough to get any banker I am talking about to take a whopping loss in compensation and to have to relocate and to have to go through the punitive confirmation process," said Eugene J. Sherman, an analyst at M.A. Shapiro & Co.
"It would be nice if they could entice someone who is an active, current executive who could approach the job from that perspective," he said.
Several candidates run into a congressional requirement that the governors come from different parts of the country. That may disqualify Morgan's Mr. Weatherstone, 64, who lives in New York, as does Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
"I don't think it is resolvable," Mr. Sherman said. "He was born in London and his domicile is New York. I don't think you could say he went to school or has a cousin somewhere else."
Mr. Weatherstone could provide the Fed with invaluable guidance on the nexus between banking and investing, a top issue confronting the central bank. He also brings international experience, serving as an adviser to the Bank of England.