- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

President Obama could name Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as his choice for Commerce Secretary as early as Monday, a move that could bring a major shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

An administration official said Saturday that Mr. Gregg, 61, is the “leading candidate” to head the department. His name had first been floated for the job publicly on Thursday.

Commerce is the last Cabinet post to be filled, since New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his name from consideration early last month to deal with an ethics investigation involving a political contributor in his home state.

Mr. Gregg, a former Republican governor and three-term senator, is up for reelection in 2010. He was expected to face a tough challenge in a state that has increasingly leaned Democratic in recent years.

Should he accept the post, Democratic Gov. John Lynch will name his successor, and could choose a fellow Democrat for fill the post. But there has been speculation the centrist governor could select a “placeholder” Republican or a nonpartisan choice who would agree not to run for a full term in 2010.

Should a Democrat get the seat, it would bring the Senate Democratic caucus to 59, one shy of the 60 needed for a filibuster-proof majority. If the pending Minnesota Senate court recount battle falls in Democrat Al Franken’s favor, the party would hit the magic number and the Obama agenda would have that better a chance of succeeding on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Gregg is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and is the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

Mr. Gregg is one of the last remaining New England Republicans in Congress. He recently has voted with Mr. Obama on several measures, including the confirmation of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and for passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

Mr. Gregg would be the second Republican to take a Cabinet post — joining former Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, who has been confirmed as transportation secretary. Mr. Obama also retained former President Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

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