Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire acknowledged Friday he is being considered for secretary of commerce in President Obama's Cabinet, a move that could have momentous consequences for the balance of power in Congress.
Mr. Gregg, a political moderate and fiscal conservative who faces a potentially awkward re-election bid in 2010, issued a statement Friday confirming intense speculation on Capitol Hill that he is being vetted for the Cabinet post, pointedly leaving open the option that he might accept if the job were offered.
"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. "Beyond that, there is nothing more I can say at this time."
With New Hampshire's Democratic Gov. John Lynch charged with selecting his replacement, Mr. Gregg's decision to leave Congress potentially could put Senate Democrats within reach of a 60-seat filibuster-breaking majority to push through legislation. Senate Republicans were feverishly lobbying their colleague not to take the post.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said in a radio interview that Mr. Gregg "would be a great commerce secretary, but we need him in the Senate."
Senate Democrats currently enjoy 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.
A spokesman for Mr. Lynch declined to comment on the reports.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also declined to talk about candidates for the commerce secretary post, which has been open since President Obama's first choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew, citing a federal probe concerning a political supporter in his home state.
"I'm not going to get into a name game," Mr. Gibbs said. "I know [the Commerce nomination] is something that the president hopes to make a decision on and announce shortly."
Mr. Obama has consulted with Mr. Gregg on financial matters and the economic stimulus bill, Mr. Gibbs said. He also joked that the lanky New Englander may be able to hold his own at the president's favorite sport, basketball.
"It looks like he might have an inside game," Mr. Gibbs said.
Mr. Gregg would join Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as congressional Republicans tapped for Mr. Obama's Cabinet. John Thompson, chief executive officer of software giant Symantec Corp., had been seen as the leading candidate for the Commerce Department job.
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. He has been raising money for a fourth Senate run, and the Cook Political Report rated him a solid favorite to hold the seat.
But the Republican Party in many New England states has been on the decline in recent election cycles, and Mr. Obama carried the state in 2008.
Former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen ousted freshman Republican Sen. John E. Sununu in November, and both of the state's Democratic House members -- Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul W. Hodes -- have been mentioned as possible 2010 challengers to Mr. Gregg.
A coalition of liberal Democratic groups already has been running ads in New Hampshire to pressure Mr. Gregg to vote for Mr. Obama's $819 billion economic rescue bill, which failed to get any Republican votes when it passed the House on Wednesday.
One scenario being discussed in Democratic circles has Mr. Lynch, a centrist governor who has made a point of working with Republicans, agreeing to select a senior Republican figure or a nonpartisan replacement for the last two years of Mr. Gregg's term. The appointee would agree not to run in 2010.