Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) has emerged as a top candidate to be Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary and an announcement could be made as soon as Monday, a White House official said Saturday.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “He’s one of the leading contenders.”
One Senate aide said Gregg “seems to want” the job. Gregg confirmed Friday he was under consideration for the position, saying he was “honored” to be a candidate—but declined to comment further.
Putting Gregg in the new administration would suddenly give New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, enormous sway over the course of Obama’s first two years in the White House. If Lynch were to appoint a Democrat, Obama’s party would control a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate so long as comedian Al Franken maintains his lead in the Minnesota Senate race.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill and in New Hampshire are putting fresh pressure on Gregg to stay in the Senate if Lynch refuses to appoint a Republican. On Saturday, Joe McQuaid, the publisher of the state’s influential Union Leader blessed the move, saying that Gregg would be an “excellent choice” for Obama’s Cabinet —but only if Lynch appointed a Republican.
“Otherwise, the appointment would be seen through as Obama's clever move to gain a filibuster-proof Senate majority; and Gregg's acceptance would make his name mud in Republican circles in New Hampshire and beyond,” McQuaid said in an opinion piece posted on the newspaper’s website.
Gregg is said to aware of that sentiment, according to Senate aides, but it’s unclear whether he would turn down the job absent a commitment that his successor would be a Republican.
A Gregg spokeswoman wouldn’t comment Saturday, and Gregg’s closest advisers have gone dark as well, a potential sign that the selection process has gone into a new phase.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are hungry for 60 votes, but they have yet to articulate a position on whether they’d accept a Republican senator to replace Gregg. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), declined to comment Saturday.
New Hampshire’s two Democratic House members, Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, both are seen as leading Democratic candidates for the job. If Gregg stays in the Senate, he would be up for reelection in 2010 and could face one of them in a state that has trended Democratic in recent years.
On the Republican side, a new name emerged Saturday as a potential Gregg successor: Bonnie Newman, a moderate Republican who has worked in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration, and was chief of staff to Gregg when he served in the House.
Other GOP names frequently mentioned are former Gov. Walter Peterson, former Sen. Warren Rudman, former state House speaker Doug Scamman (who's a friend of Lynch), former Rep. Charlie Bass and former Sen. John Sununu, who lost his reelection bid in 2008 to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
“With respect to serving the people of New Hampshire again at some point in the near future, I have not made any decisions at this time,” Bass told Politico.
Rudman told the Union Leader that “only someone who is totally insane would think I'd ever” return to the Senate. "Anyone who thinks that Warren Rudman would go back to the Senate after serving for 12 great years truly ought to have his head examined.”