- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is considering former Sen. Max Cleland for a top position of either Secretary of Veterans Affairs or Secretary of the Army.

A source familiar with transition planning said Mr. Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, is under consideration for those positions in an Obama administration and liberal grassroots support is building for his selection.

The president-elect’s transition team declined to comment, and the normally talkative Mr. Cleland would not respond to even a basic question from a reporter.

Mr. Cleland is a hero among many on the left for his Democratic activism since losing his U.S. Senate seat in 2002.

The one-term Georgia Democrat was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss, who ran an ad reviled by liberals because it used images of Mr. Cleland, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden while claiming the Democrat was weak on homeland security issues.

Mr. Cleland served several years on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States after being appointed by President Bush in 2002. He also served as the administrator of the Veterans Administration under President Carter, a position which later became known as Veterans Affairs.

A Democratic source familiar with discussions going on between the Obama transition team and potential appointees said Mr. Cleland would like to return to the nation’s capitol and serve in either role.

“Max deserves to come back,” the source said.

Mr. Cleland, 66, is a lobbyist for a medical device firm that helps wounded soldiers. He has not removed himself from the federal registry, a move that would be required under new ethics rules to be imposed by the incoming Obama administration.

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday morning, Mr. Cleland would not comment and referred the call to a retired aide who helps him with press.

The aide Lynn Kimmerly said Mr. Cleland has not been contacted by the transition team, adding, “It’s all speculation.”

The Obama transition team has strictly warned those under consideration not to speak to the press under any circumstances.

The netroots — liberal bloggers and online activists — have tremendous affection for Mr. Cleland, who they view as a symbol of the worst of a Republican campaign era of dirty politics.

Mr. Cleland had been involved in Democratic campaigning since his 2002 defeat. He was prominently featured at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and campaigned for his friend and fellow veteran Sen. John Kerry.

He also campaigned actively for Democrats during the 2006 cycle.

But his work as a lobbyist forced the Obama campaign to disinvite him from an event in Georgia over the summer, though the former senator told the New York Times he did not feel slighted and understood the campaign’s ethics rules.

Mr. Obama’s friend Tammy Duckworth, a major in the National Guard who unsuccessfully ran for a Congressional seat in Illinois in 2006, also is under consideration for an administration position dealing with veterans issues. She lost both legs and severely injured her arm in the Iraq war and is currently serving as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

Political action committee VoteVets has collected more than 5,700 signatures on an online petition detailing Mr. Cleland’s and Ms. Duckworth’s service and asking Mr. Obama to consider both for administration positions.

“Those are the kind of people we need in government, especially right now,” the petition reads. “Now is the time for President-Elect Obama to show the nation that he recognizes it is important to bring our greatest veterans into his administration. One way he can do that is to name Max Cleland and Tammy Duckworth to a role in his administration.”

Online activists also are rallying on Mr. Cleland’s behalf as Mr. Chambliss battles for his own political future.

The Republican faces a Dec. 2 runoff election after he and Democrat Jim Martin were less than 110,000 votes apart of 3.8 million votes cast on Nov. 4. Because Mr. Chambliss did not receive 50 percent of the vote — the Republican earned 49.8 percent to the Democrat’s 46.8 percent — the margin triggered an automatic runoff.

A “Do it for Max” group formed on the liberal fundraising site ActBlue has raised more than $22,000 for Mr. Martin’s runoff.

The page proclaims the Chambliss ad was the lowest point in American politics and urges: “Let’s restore some dignity to Max Cleland’s seat and send Saxby Chambliss off to early retirement.”

Mr. Cleland has campaigned for Mr. Martin and sent a fundraising note through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Tuesday saying a win for the Democrat is “all part of finishing the job started with Barack Obama’s historic election.”

“Six years ago, Saxby Chambliss won his Senate seat by running a TV commercial pairing my picture with Osama bin Laden’s,” Mr. Cleland wrote in the fundraising email. “I know first hand that the runoff campaign in Georgia will get nasty. Chambliss already has his latest round of shocking TV commercials exploiting the memory of 9/11. His right-wing buddies are flooding the state with vicious attacks against Democrat Jim Martin, himself a Vietnam veteran and a terrific public servant.”

Liberal activists have blasted Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain for campaigning on Mr. Chambliss’ behalf, and have noted that Mr. McCain once deplored the Republican’s 2002 ad as “reprehensible.”

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