- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire Friday confirmed intense speculation on Capitol Hill that he is being considered for the post of Commerce secretary in President Obama’s Cabinet, a move that would have momentous consequences for the balance of power in Congress.

News that the political moderate and fiscal conservative was in the running for the post surfaced Thursday night and Mr. Gregg confirmed he was being vetted Friday morning.

“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,” he said in a statement. “Beyond that, there is nothing more I can say at this time.”

Mr. Gregg would join Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as congressional Republicans tapped for Mr. Obama’s Cabinet. More critically, his replacement could potentially give Senate Democrats a 60-seat filibuster-breaking majority to push through legislation.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, would name the replacement to fill Mr. Gregg’s seat should he leave the Senate.

Senate Democrats currently hold a 58-41 edge over Republicans, with Democratic challenger Al Franken holding a tiny edge over incumbent Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in the recount fight for their contested seat. With 60 votes, Democrats under Senate rules could cut off debate by the minority and block other stalling tactics.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call was among the first to report speculation that Mr. Gregg was being considered for the Cabinet post. A White House spokesman said the president “has not made a decision” about the Commerce job.

The job is still open because Mr. Obama’s first choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, took his name out of consideration earlier this month, citing the distraction of a federal probe into a state contract that benefited one of the governor’s campaign donors. John Thompson, chief executive officer of software giant Symantec Corp., had been seen as the front-runner for the post.

The 61-year-old Mr. Gregg is a former New Hampshire governor and chaired the Senate Budget Committee when Republicans were in the majority.

He has won three terms in the Senate, but faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign in 2010. The moderate Republican Party in many New England states has been on the decline in recent election cycles, and President Obama carried the state in 2008.

A coalition of liberal Democratic groups have already been running ads in New Hampshire to pressure Mr. Gregg to vote for President Obama’s $819 billion economic rescue bill, which failed to get any Republican votes when it passed the House on Wednesday.

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