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Obama's picks challenge party

About a dozen elected Democrats may fill Cabinet or staff jobs, leaving their current posts in jeopardy.

November 30, 2008|Chris Cillizza | Cillizza writes for the Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama's speed in naming Cabinet nominees and top White House staffers has drawn praise from many within his party, but it also has left a series of likely vacancies that could endanger Democratic electoral prospects in the coming months and reduce diversity within party ranks.

Roughly a dozen current Democratic officeholders are rumored to be vacating their posts for jobs in the Obama administration.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, for example, is likely to take over the Department of Homeland Security, which would mean that Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would assume the governorship through 2010 -- providing the GOP an unexpected advantage in that open-seat race.

Obama's own election has created problems too: His successor as Illinois senator is to be chosen by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an embattled Democrat. Any tie to Blagojevich could endanger a Democrat's Senate election chances in 2010.

And Blagojevich -- who himself is considering running for a third term in 2010 -- is under pressure to name an African American to succeed Obama, the only black senator.

In picking New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as Commerce secretary, Obama has removed the country's lone Latino governor.

"Obama has clearly decided that creating a series of political crises for Democrats is worth it if it means having the right people in government to help him deal with the series of crises facing the nation," said Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who managed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential nomination bid.

A look at recent presidential transitions reveals that Obama is selecting more elected officials than did President Bush or President Clinton.

Among Obama's picks, Napolitano poses the biggest potential problem for Democrats. Arizona has no lieutenant governor, which is why the Republican secretary of state would succeed her.

Like its Western neighbors, Arizona has moved toward the Democrats in recent years, and the assumption was that Napolitano would have either run against Republican Sen. John McCain in 2010 or been a candidate for the open seat had McCain won the presidency. McCain said late last week that he intends to seek a fifth term.

For governor, Republicans had no obvious choices -- beyond Brewer -- for their candidate in 2010 and would have probably begun as the underdogs, given the solid Democratic field led by state Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard. Now, however, Brewer could spend the better part of the next two years as governor, a major advantage for the 2010 race.

At the Senate level, Obama's resignation has set off a behind-the-scenes battle to win Blagojevich's appointment.

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. has made his interest in the job public, and last month he was endorsed by the Chicago Defender, a powerful black-owned newspaper. "Sen. Obama is the only African American senator," the paper said in a pre-election editorial supporting Jackson if Obama won the presidency. "If the Senate has any hope of reflecting today's face of America, this seat (once held by Carol Moseley-Braun) should be filled by an African American."

The other individuals mentioned as possible picks include Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth and state Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan.

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