President-elect Barack Obama has received favorable reviews for the personnel choices he has made for his administration so far, but the picks are causing some political heartburn for Democrats around the country.
The selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security is a two-fer for Republicans in Phoenix. Her selection hands the governor’s chair to Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer for the next two years and removes from the 2010 Senate race the person who could have been the leading Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. John McCain’s bid for re-election.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s nomination to be secretary of state already has set off a messy succession struggle in New York that rivals the one set off in Illinois to fill the vacant Senate seat formerly held by Mr. Obama himself.
Democratic Govs. David A. Paterson of New York and Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, who will pick the successors, face delicate balancing acts. The party’s ethnic, geographic and demographic blocs are staking their claims.
In New York, for example, feminists say Mrs. Clinton’s seat should go by rights to a woman, with Reps. Nydia Vazquez, Nita Lowey and Louise Slaughter among those whose names have surfaced. But upstate Democrats have long complained about the dominance of New York City and the Long Island suburbs in the party, and are pushing the case for, among others, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, the city’s first black chief executive.
If Mr. Paterson prefers a famous name to replace the high-wattage Mrs. Clinton, there is state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo or Caroline Kennedy, who endorsed Mr. Obama early in the campaign and advised him on his vice-presidential search.
Mr. Paterson, who for a time was himself mentioned as a possible Senate replacement for Mrs. Clinton during her failed presidential run, said Monday he was “consulting with a wide variety of individuals from all across New York state.”
“I expect to announce Senator Clinton’s replacement when the position becomes officially vacant,” he added, which New York political analysts say could mean another month or more of lobbying and jockeying.
In Illinois, Mr. Blagojevich faces a similarly difficult choice.
The Chicago Sun-Times Monday endorsed Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., son of the famous civil rights activist, to replace Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama’s election as the first black president, ironically, leaves the Senate without any black members.
But Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky are also reported in the running, as are two Obama political allies: state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq war. Mr. Blagojevich also could remove a potential 2010 primary rival by appointing state Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
One more headache for the national party is that the replacements for Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., in Delaware, face a special election in just two years.
Mr. Biden’s replacement, longtime aide and political consultant Ted Kaufman, already has said he will not run in 2010 for the last four years of Mr. Biden’s term. In New York, Mrs. Clinton’s replacement could face a challenge from former Republican New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2010 or in 2012, when Mrs. Clinton’s six-year term officially expires.
The precedents are not reassuring for the Democrats.
Republicans picked up Senate seats in Texas in 1993 and in Tennessee a year later, ousting Democratic incumbents appointed to replace Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Vice President Al Gore when they joined the Clinton administration.