- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama reached across the aisle Tuesday to nominate Rep. John M. McHugh, New York Republican, as secretary of the Army. Next year’s midterm election is the likely explanation for this burst of bipartisanship.

There are just three Republicans in New York’s 31-member congressional delegation. If Mr. McHugh is confirmed and steps down, a special election will be held in his rural upstate district that Democrats have a good chance of winning. Mr. Obama won the district with 52.6 percent of the vote last year after President George W. Bush carried it in 2000 and 2004. A Democratic pickup would put an incumbent in place for 2010, when the majority party faces a possible loss of House seats.

A White House spokesman wouldn’t comment on any political motivations, but the party of a first-term president historically fares poorly in midterm elections. In every such midterm election but one since 1970, the first-term president’s party lost House seats. The exception was 2002, during Mr. Bush’s first term, when House Republicans gained eight seats. The average loss for the party in the White House in every other midterm was 23, and it reached as high as 54 in 1994, during President Clinton’s first term.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is being coy, with a spokesman saying: “With the right candidate, this district is winnable, but it will be tough.” Similar sentiments were expressed about the March 31 special election for New York’s 20th district, in which Republican assemblyman Jim Tedisco was defeated by now-Rep. Scott Murphy, a Democrat. Although the race was decided by just a few hundred votes, Republicanslost what many thought was a safe seat.

This pick smacks of the Machiavellian tactics of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In February, New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg was nominated for commerce secretary. Although the conservative senator eventually withdrew his nomination, the White House’s interest was obvious: Removing Mr. Gregg from the Senate would have cleared his seat for an almost certain pickup in a Democrat-trending state.

Mr. McHugh’s seat is not lost yet. Even though Mr. Obama carried the district, Mr. McHugh has held it for eight terms and was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote last year. Republicans enjoy a 46,500 advantage in registered voters. Ultimately, the outcome of any race might be moot. Because of population decline, this district is likely to be targeted for elimination during 2012 redistricting in a process currently controlled by New York Democrats, who hold the State Assembly, Senate and governor’s mansion.

Democrats will do whatever it takes to expand their majority.

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