Cabinet deal is set for Gregg

N.H. senator to get nod today; Likely successor is a Republican

Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire implied that he will probably name a Republican to fill Judd Gregg's Senate seat. Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire implied that he will probably name a Republican to fill Judd Gregg's Senate seat. (Jim Cole/ Associated Press)
By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / February 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama plans to nominate Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire for secretary of commerce today, a White House official said last night. John Lynch, New Hampshire's Democratic governor, strongly implied yesterday he would appoint a Republican to replace Gregg.

Lynch said that Gregg would only take the job on condition that a Republican be appointed to serve out his term, an assertion Gregg quickly confirmed. Lynch said he had spoken to Gregg, who would be the third Republican in Obama's Cabinet, and to the White House, and he seemed inclined to give the new president and the state's senior senator what they needed to make a deal.

"It is important that President Obama be able to select the advisers he feels are necessary to help him address the challenges facing our nation," Lynch said in a statement. "If President Obama does nominate Senator Gregg to serve as commerce secretary, I will name a replacement who will put the people of New Hampshire first and represent New Hampshire effectively in the US Senate."

New Hampshire Democrats widely expect Lynch to choose J. Bonnie Newman, a Republican with extensive Washington experience and ties to both Gregg and Lynch. That view was endorsed by one person with knowledge of the successor discussion, who also said Newman, who could not be reached yesterday, would not run in 2010, when Gregg's term is up. That may mitigate Democratic anger over the highly unusual arrangement by giving the party a shot at winning an open seat.

Gregg, the son of a Republican governor who has been a leader in the state party since 1978, clearly does not want to be responsible for allowing Democrats to gain the 60 votes needed for a potentially filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. If Democrats took his seat, they would only need to eke out a victory in Minnesota, where last November's close election remains entangled in the courts.

"Judd Gregg could never come back to New Hampshire [and] have Republicans talking to him again if he left the Senate in a situation where he was going to be replaced by a Democrat," said Kathy Sullivan, former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

She urged Democrats to be understanding. "If you support Barack Obama, if you support his presidency, maybe you give him a pass on this, and you accept that maybe John Lynch is doing something to help Obama out," she said. "And in a time of crisis . . . maybe these guys know what they're doing."

The prospect of a Republican appointee has already infuriated some Democratic activists, who point out that during the last five years, voters have handed the party control of both houses of the Legislature, the executive council, the governor's office, and three of the four seats in the congressional delegation.

"Everyone else is looking at this and looking at John and going, 'What are you doing?' " said Deborah "Arnie" Arnesen, a liberal political analyst and host of the local cable talk show "Political Chowder." She spent hours yesterday duking it out on Blue Hampshire, the state's most influential Democratic blog.

"Here's the problem: This is an elected position in a state that is turning blue. Here's my point: Let the Republican Party rebuild on its own - don't you help," Arnesen said.

Newman was an assistant secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, oversaw administrative operations in George H.W. Bush's White House, and also served as Gregg's chief of staff when he was a congressman in the early 1980s. In 2004, she was one of the first Republicans to endorse Lynch when he was the underdog challenger to Governor Craig Benson, a Republican whose administration was plagued by ethical scandals.

In recent years, she has held a succession of high-profile administrative positions, leading the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, serving as interim president of the University of New Hampshire, and executive dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Gregg's announcement clearly took New Hampshire Republicans by surprise. Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the state Republican Party, said he found the politics of the move bewildering, pointing out that the president and Gregg have very different political philosophies; that Obama could find plenty of other qualified people for the commerce job; and that Gregg could retire in two years if he is tired of his job. And, Cullen said, appointing a Republican could result in Lynch facing a primary challenge from a liberal Democrat in 2010.

"This is not a seat-warming proposition," he said of the Senate seat. "This is a year and a half of real responsibility."

He said he considered Newman a mentor, but that though she had given him advice over the years and helped him connect with other people, he did not know about her stances on particular issues. "She is not an ideologue," he said. "She believes in a government that works."

Donald A. Ritchie, associate historian for the US Senate Historical Office, said governors have rarely reached across the political aisle to fill a Senate vacancy and usually only when state law has required it. Arizona is one of those states; if John McCain had won the presidential race, Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat would have had to appoint a Republican.

Ritchie said the last time a governor freely chose a member of the other party to replace an outgoing senator was in 1960, when Governor Mark Hatfield of Oregon, a Republican, chose a Democratic judge to replace a Democratic senator who died.

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at

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