Obama Eyes GOP Senator for Top Commerce Job

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said Friday that he's being considered by President Barack Obama for a Cabinet appointment as head of the Commerce Department.

Senior Democrats said the New Hampshire senator is among those at the top of a list for the job, although they emphasized that no move was imminent. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made and they were not authorized to discuss the administration's thinking.

"I am aware that my name is one of those being considered by the White House for secretary of commerce, and am honored to be considered, along with others, for the position," Gregg said in a statement. "Beyond that there is nothing more I can say at this time."

A Capitol Hill leadership aide said Thursday evening that Obama had talked with his party's leaders about the move to appoint Gregg, which could put Democrats within reach of a 60-person, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate if New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch were to name a fellow Democrat.

Democrats hold a 56-41 majority in the 100-member Senate, and two independents caucus with them. The Senate seat from Minnesota remains undecided, with Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken in a close, court-based contest.

Gregg has said he plans to run for re-election in 2010. He was the GOP's chief negotiator for the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, a plan unpopular with many Republicans. New Hampshire has been trending toward the Democrats, although independents remain a major force in the "Live Free or Die" state.

Obama's first choice to run the Commerce Department, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, dropped out of consideration amid a grand jury investigation over how state contracts were issued to political donors.

White House officials insisted Thursday that no decision had been made. It was also not clear if the popular — and, at times, frustratingly moderate — Lynch would pick someone out of party loyalty.

During the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, Lynch made positive statements about Republican John McCain and attended one of his signature town halls. He also named GOP star Kelly Ayotte his attorney general as part of a centrist governing style that delivered him re-election with 70 percent of the vote.

A member of a New Hampshire political family and a policy wonk, Gregg rose through the Senate ranks to serve as chairman of the powerful Budget Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that funds homeland security. Now in the minority, he is the ranking Republican member on the Budget Committee but still has large sway in the GOP's response to Obama's legislative agenda.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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