The appointment of Rahm Emanuel, the powerful Illinois congressman, as White House chief of staff will allow President-elect Barack Obama to avoid at least one mistake made by Bill Clinton when he took office in 1992.

The resignation as chief of staff of Mack McLarty, a boyhood friend of Mr Clinton, 18 months later was greeted with relief after it became clear that the gatekeeper to a president needed to be a Washington insider who could control the president’s staff and tightly manage his schedule and operations.

In Mr Emanuel, Mr Obama has chosen a star in the Democratic Congress: a foul-mouthed former ballet dancer and aide to Mr Clinton who is credited with leading the Democratic charge in the crucial 2006 election that returned them to the majority in the House.

Mr Emanuel’s reputation for toughness, use of profanity and apparent willingness to ride roughshod over critics marks an extreme contrast to Mr Obama’s image as a preternaturally calm leader whose “highs are never that high and lows are never that low”.

In accepting the job on Thursday, Mr Emanuel said he had loved his time in the House, where he had learned some “invaluable” lessons; “even a few lessons in humility, believe it or not”.

His appointment has underlined the importance of Chicago – its tough politics and its powerbrokers – in the new Obama administration.

Mr Emanuel has ties to Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, and is good friends not only with Mr Obama but with the senator’s chief strategist, David Axelrod.

Mr Emanuel first stepped on to the national scene as an adviser to Mr Clinton. After leaving the White House he worked as an investment banker for three years before returning to politics, about $16m (£10m) richer than when he left.

He was elected to Congress in 2003 where he rose quickly because of his fundraising skills in Wall Street and Hollywood, where his brother, Ari, is an agent.

According to Scott Segal, a Democratic lobbyist, Mr Emanuel’s “zealous pursuit” of his objectives made him a good choice.

“If a bad cop is needed, he’ll do it,” he said, adding: “Rahm Emanuel is an important thinker in the centrist Democratic community. To the extent senator Obama’s record with centrist elements of the party could use shoring up, Rahm helps with that.”

In weighing a decision to join Mr Obama or to stay on in the House, Mr Emanuel – already the fourth most senior Democrat in the lower chamber – may have forfeited future ambitions in the House.

“He is also not known as the most patient person in the world,” said Tony Podesta, a veteran Washington lobbyist.

“The notion of, just wait 20 years and you can be Speaker [is far-fetched when] …he can make a big impact on the country and the world by working in the administration.”

Of all the tasks Mr Emanuel would have to carry out, none might be as important as the one famously described by a former chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, who used to say that he was proud to be “Richard Nixon’s son of a bitch”.

● Barack Obama has won North Carolina, a symbolic triumph in a state that had not voted for a Democrat in more than a generation, AP reports. North Carolina’s 15 electoral college votes bring Mr Obama’s total to 364. Missouri is the only state that remains too close to call.

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