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Gregg is a front-runner for commerce secretary

While Judd Gregg, shown in January, is conservative on many issues, he worked closely with Obama on economic matters. While Judd Gregg, shown in January, is conservative on many issues, he worked closely with Obama on economic matters. (Susan Walsh/ Associated Press)
By Michael Kranish
Globe Staff / February 1, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Senator Judd Gregg moved closer to being nominated secretary of commerce yesterday after an administration official said the New Hampshire Republican had become President Obama's "leading candidate" for the job.

The official, who was authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity, read from a prepared comment, furthering the perception that Obama could pick Gregg soon. The official declined to say whether Gregg had been offered the job or whether a final decision had been made. No announcement is expected until tomorrow at the earliest.

If past Cabinet nominations are a guide, Obama's aides put out word about a leading candidate as part of the vetting process, in part to see whether the report of a possible pick turns up any surprises and to gauge reaction. One response so far has come from Republicans who fear they would lose a seat to Democrats.

Under New Hampshire law, the state's governor - Democrat John Lynch - has the authority to name a replacement for a senator who resigns from office.

If Lynch picks a Democrat for the job, and if Al Franken is declared the winner of his Minnesota Senate race, Democrats would be in a position to have the necessary 60 votes to override Republican filibusters. There are 56 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats in the Senate.

But Lynch might pull a surprise. He previously named a Republican as attorney general, and could pick a GOP member for Gregg's job as well.

A Gregg spokeswoman declined to confirm an ABC report last night that the senator would not accept the position unless he was replaced by a Republican. Gregg said in a Friday statement that he was honored to be considered for the position.

Gregg is up for reelection in 2010 in a state that has been trending strongly Democratic in recent years. He is the only Republican member of Congress from New Hampshire. In an interview last week, Gregg said he planned to run for reelection and denied he was worried about his prospects. He said that Republicans have just had "a couple of bad years" and that the state remained in tune with his views.

While Gregg is conservative on many issues, he has worked closely with Obama on economic matters. He was one of only six Republicans to support giving Obama the second $350 billion of the financial bailout funds and one of 10 Republicans to support the nomination of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. While Gregg has expressed reservations about some of the spending in the $819 billion economic stimulus package, he said in the interview that he hoped to take a lead in reshaping the measure in order to win Republican support.

The senator, 61, may have another advantage. He has a degree in tax law, which may be construed as him showing more diligence than some public officials in correctly filing his taxes. Two of Obama's nominees for Cabinet positions have admitted to failing to fully pay their taxes. Geithner said he didn't realize he was supposed to pay $43,000 in self-employment taxes and was confirmed amid considerable criticism for the failure. On Friday, it was revealed that Tom Daschle, who has been nominated to secretary of Health and Human Services, acknowledged failing to pay $128,000 in taxes.

Obama's initial pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration because of concerns about an investigation into his administration.

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