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GOP's Judd Gregg quitting the Senate as well as Obama team?

February 12, 2009 |  3:26 pm

Buried in all the words uttered this afternoon and evening about the abrupt and surprising departure of yet another Obama administration Cabinet member -- Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who was set to become Commerce secretary -- was his own five-word revelation:

The former governor and House member would likely not be seeking a fourth Senate term next year.

Not that many northeastern Republicans left anymore. And his state has been trending Democratic. Throws the Granite State's politics into turmoil and opens the door for Democrats to capture that 60th seat that makes the Senate filibuster-proof to the minority you-know-who's.

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Gregg suddenly withdrew his own acceptance of an Obama administration post as the president was in Peoria, Ill., at the Caterpillar plant introducing and praising ex-Rep. Ray LaHood, a local Republican congressman who had become the second GOP member in his Cabinet (if you count Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served a Republican president but was a registered independent).

Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts," stemming largely from his conservative fiscal concerns with the economic stimulus package, now in conference committee, which Gregg did not vote on.

With the conservative Gregg on board, Obama's team has been touting the most bipartisan administration team in history. But the Gregg explained at a late afternoon news conference that the more he thought about the ongoing implications of joining Obama and parts of the economic stimulus program he would help implement and sell, the more he realized the independence he was giving up and his inability to 100% support the team.

"You can't have a blocking back who only pulls out for every second or third play," Gregg said.

Initially, the surprised Obama press team seemed to be preparing for a fight, putting out a hasty statement suggesting it was Gregg who volunteered for the Commerce job.

But Gregg had nothing but good things to say about his abortive boss. The Republican praised Obama as "incredibly gracious" and full of promise. Said he hoped to "carry his water" often on the Hill, that he actually might be more helpful to Obama as a GOP senator than in the Cabinet, and that he wished the new chief executive well.

Gregg said the move of the politically-sensitive Census Bureau from Commerce to the White House the year before the crucial 2010 head count that determines legislative reapportionments for the next decade was only a "slight" factor in his decision.

"To withdraw at this point is really unfair in many ways," Gregg added. "But to go forward and take the position and find myself sitting there not able to do the job the way it should be done for the president would have been an even bigger mistake."

"The president asked me to do this," Gregg said. "I said, 'Yes.' That was my mistake."

Then, almost as an aside answering reporters' questions, Gregg looked at next year and added: "Will I run? Probably not."

-- Andrew Malcolm

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