WASHINGTON (CNN) - Nearly two years before Election Day 2010, the Senate Democrat charged with expanding the party's already-strong majority sounded a bullish tone Thursday, suggesting the national mood and political environment make it nearly impossible for the GOP to pick up seats.
"The fear should be on the other side,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters in his first briefing since assuming the post formerly held by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Menendez's unyielding optimism may seem surprising given how far out the elections remain, and the fact that the president's party historically loses seats in a midterm election, especially when that party controls both houses of Congress and the White House. The Democratic Party’s decades-long majority status in Congress ended with the first midterm of the Clinton presidency.
But Menendez noted five currently-held GOP seats are set to be vacated in 2010, most of them in traditional swing states: Florida, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kansas. Meanwhile, no current Democratic senators have plans to retire, though the president's Cabinet appointments have technically left Colorado, New York, Illinois, and Delaware without an incumbent Democrat.
UPDATE: With New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg removing his name from consideration to be Commerce Secretary, New Hampshire may no longer be an open seat, though Gregg later said he 'probably' would not seek reelection.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Judd Gregg made clear Thursday he would rather serve in the Senate than in the Obama administration, but the New Hampshire Republican said he “probably” will not seek a fourth term next year.
“Will I run? Probably not,” Gregg said at a press conference after withdrawing from the Commerce post. Gregg also told the New Hampshire Union-Leader earlier in the day that he does not intend to seek re-election.
If that’s true, it likely comes as good news to New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes, the Democratic congressman who emerged as a frontrunner for the seat after Gregg first decided to take the Commerce job. Hodes announced his intention to run for the Senate seat last week.
But if Gregg has a change of heart and decides to run again in 2010, Hodes has a tougher road ahead. According to an American Research Group poll released in late December, Gregg held a 47-40 lead in a hypothetical match-up with the congressman.
Even before Gregg said Thursday he won’t run again - but after he turned down the president - Hodes made it clear he still wants the seat.
“I will be a candidate for the United State Senate in 2010,” Hodes said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “I look forward to working every day to stand up for New Hampshire as we come together to confront the economic crisis facing our nation.”
Hodes would still need to secure the Democratic nomination, and may face a primary challenge from Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who is mulling her own bid.
(CNN) - New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg acknowledged the White House is likely upset with him because he did not vote on the stimulus bill.
“I’m sure that’s true," Gregg said, adding he decided not vote for the White House-backed measure “because I gave my word to people.”
Watch Gregg explain why he withdrew his name to be Commerce Secretary.
(CNN) - New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg held a press conference Thursday explaining why he withdrew his name to be the next Commerce secretary.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A source close to the process says that the idea of removing the census from Commerce and having it “run” out of the White House was taken as a slap in the face by Judd Gregg. “It was like saying they don’t trust you” with such a political issue, says the source.
This source says those who wanted Gregg - including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel - believed that in choosing him, the Obama team would be "taking the opposition’s quarterback off the field.”
“They have to take some of the blame for this," says a Democratic source close to the White House. "They almost humiliated him by taking the census away from him.”
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A Republican aide familiar with Judd Gregg's decision to withdraw from consideration says the New Hampshire senator has been privately consulting with GOP leaders about this move for the “past couple of days” before making final decision today.
And a Republican source close to Gregg says the "census tipped things," adding to increasing "worries about his seat at the table" - that Gregg might be marginalized “basically if on any issue important to Democratic constituencies they are on one side and Judd is on the other, he is muted.
(CNN) - Sen Judd Gregg's decision to withdraw his name for Commerce Secretary is a sign of President Obama's inexperience, Republican Sen Bob Bennet of Utah said.
“I think it is a demonstration of inexperience. You don’t attract someone of Judd Gregg caliber into the cabinet and then take steps that would cause him to leave without at least talking to him and understanding that that might happen," he told reporters Thursday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Democratic source close to the Obama White House said Thursday that Judd Gregg "campaigned for the job" - that the New Hampshire senator had asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to approach the president about the Commerce post.
Gregg "sat with [Obama], said he wanted the job, knew his policies and erratically dropped out without warning," said the source, minutes after the Republican senator announced his withdrawal from consideration.
UPDATE: A Democratic source confirms to CNN that Harry Reid approached White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel about Gregg for Commerce Secretary.
And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday Gregg had initiated discussions over the position.
“Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda," said Gibbs in a statement.
"Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart”.
Sen. Judd Gregg is the second person to withdraw from consideration for the post of Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/File)
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire released a statement Thursday withdrawing from consideration to be President Obama's Commerce Secretary.
Full statement follows:
“I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.
“However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.
“Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It’s a word so fraught with superstition, its very mention can send grown men ducking for cover — and President Obama used it Wednesday night.
On a trip to Ford’s Theater, site of President Lincoln’s assassination, Obama paid tribute to the 16th president’s ability to recall passages of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth. And with that reference, he unwittingly ventured into what many theater hands believe to be dangerous territory: any mention of the name of the doomed Scottish king in a theater outside of a performance is considered verboten by many actors, who believe it will result in a cursed production — including a greater possibility of injury, bankruptcy, even death.
So does Obama have anything to fear from uttering the unluckiest word in what may be the unluckiest theater in American history? Theater-goers can relax: Many stage afficianados believe that the prohibition only applies to performers or theater hands, and non-actors have nothing to worry about.
But in the near future, the president might want to stick to movies. Just to be on the safe side.