WASHINGTON – The admission by the White House on Thursday that it dangled the prospect of a government job in front of another contender for the U.S. Senate had Republicans calling for a full-scale criminal probe of the Obama administration Thursday – while Democrats maintained that Obama aides were guilty of nothing more than good politics.
White House officials confirmed that an aide last year discussed a possible federal post with Andrew Romanoff, a U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado, in a bid to avoid a contentious primary with incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet. The news comes less than a week after the administration disclosed that it deployed former President Bill Clinton in an attempt to convince Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania to drop his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter.
“Clearing the field” of candidates in order to avoid a divisive and resource-depleting primary fight has been a staple of electoral politics since American political parties sprang into being. Offering prospective candidates inducements to run – or to stand down – is nothing new. Most often, the tools used involve extending or withdrawing party financial support.
But some Republicans allege the Obama White House crossed a legal line by specifically offering administration posts in exchange for their withdrawal from the contests. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused the White House on Thursday of acting “like Chicago party bosses” doling out patronage jobs.
The White House maintained Thursday that in Romanoff’s case, no job offer was extended. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Romanoff, former speaker of the Colorado House, applied for a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development after the 2008 election. Last September, when it appeared that Romanoff would be entering the race against Bennet, he was phoned by the deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, Gibbs said.
Messina “called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the U.S. Senate,” Gibbs said. “But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the administration, and that ended the discussion,” Gibbs said. “As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”
Gibbs said Thursday that Obama did not know of the overtures made toward Romanoff, but said the president has an interest in averting “costly” primaries.
Steve Elmendorf, a veteran Democratic strategist in Washington, said: “I think it’s completely appropriate. I don’t think White House should be defensive about it. The president is not just the leader of the country, he’s the leader of his party.”