GOP senator a Commerce possibility

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is under consideration for the Commerce secretary post in President Obama’s Cabinet, raising the prospect that Democrats could gain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate, according to two officials familiar with the selection process.

Gregg, who faces reelection in 2010, is one of several people under consideration for the remaining Cabinet post for which Obama has no nominee.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had been picked for the Commerce job, but he pulled out this month amid a grand jury probe into a state contract award.

Since then, Obama has been casting about for a replacement but has not settled on anyone, according to White House aides. On Thursday, a Republican Senate aide and a Democratic official confirmed that Gregg had emerged as a candidate.


Gregg’s office declined to comment.

From a political perspective, the selection could prove a gift to the Democrats. If Gregg were to resign from the Senate, his replacement would be chosen by New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch.

If Lynch were to give the seat to a fellow Democrat, that would boost the party’s count in the Senate to 59, including the two independents who caucus with Democrats.

And if Minnesota Democrat Al Franken ultimately joined the Senate, the number would grow to 60 -- the threshold needed to deprive Republicans of the ability to use filibusters to block legislation. The Minnesota Senate race is still in dispute.

With a 60-vote majority in the Senate, coupled with a comfortable Democratic margin in the House, Obama could push through his agenda with a minimum of Republican resistance.

For that reason, some analysts doubted that Gregg would take the job. He would come under strong pressure from fellow Republicans to stay put.

The GOP aide, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, suggested that a deal could be worked out in which Lynch agrees to appoint a Republican successor.

“There might be an agreement reached where the Democratic governor does not appoint a Democratic replacement,” the aide said.


Accepting the post would spare Gregg a potentially difficult reelection campaign in 2010.

Last fall, registered Democrats in New Hampshire outnumbered Republicans for the first time since the state began keeping records, said Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

New Hampshire voters not only chose Barack Obama in November, but they voted out of office another prominent political son, then-Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), whose father had been governor and later White House chief of staff.

“In modern-day New Hampshire, no Republican has an easy election,” Buckley said.


Amy Walter, editor in chief of the Hotline, a daily news service devoted to politics, countered that Gregg would be a formidable candidate.

“It’s clear to me that New Hampshire is trending blue. But he is in a much stronger position than his former colleague, John Sununu, in 2008. . . . There are certainly Republicans who have been able to figure out how to win despite unfavorable head winds,” Walter said.

Gregg, a third-term senator, is conservative on trade and tax issues, which has won him strong marks from the business community.

He is also a conservative on social issues, which could prove an obstacle in confirmation hearings. He fought legislation in the last Congress to outlaw job discrimination against gay people.


Gregg is considered a tough legislative player who provided reliable support for President Bush, though he once admitted to doubts about Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq.

There is no ambiguity about his business record. He received a 100% score from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his votes in 2006, while earning just 7% from the AFL-CIO.




Tom Hamburger of our Washington bureau contributed to this article.