By Michael Kranish
WASHINGTON -- Senator Judd Gregg moved closer today to being nominated Secretary of Commerce after an administration official said the New Hampshire Republican had become President Barack Obama’s “leading candidate” for the job.
The official, who was authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity, spoke 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 Monday 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 if the report of a possible pick turns up any surprises and to gauge reaction. One reaction so far has come from Republicans who fear they would lose a seat to the opposition party.
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 currently 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 comment today. 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 earlier this week, Gregg said he planned to run for reelection and denied that 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 61-year-old senator may have another advantage. He has a degree in tax law, which may mean that he has shown 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 be Secretary of Health and Human Services, acknowledged failing to pay $128,000 in taxes, which could damage his chances of filling the post.
Obama’s initial pick for Commerce Secretary, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration due to concerns about a grand jury investigation into his administration’s awarding of contracts.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.