I won't claim to know the precise reasons why Judd Gregg, who last week stood with President Obama, and vowed to work with him as Commerce Secretary is now withdrawing. But a couple of sources in New Hampshire politics chalk it up to the abuse Gregg was taking over the past few weeks, first from some on the right for going into the liberal Obama administration and then from all sides for being too cute about the stimulus package, abstaining from voting for or against it. Gregg was ridiculed in New Hampshire's most important newspaper, the Union Leader.
The situation creates headaches for everyone. Back home, Gregg might come to be seen as principled for staying in his seat but at the moment he looks weirdly indecisive and he still faces a tough reelection bid in 2010 if he chooses to run again. He's embarassed a popular governor, John Lynch, who took some political risks by nominating a Republican to fill Gregg's seat. But the biggest fallout is probably for the Obama administration which has seen two other cabinet nominations (those of Tom Daschle to be HHS Secretary and Bill Richardson to head Commerce) blow up on the launch pad.
It's hard to see why the differences with Obama had somehow become irreconcilable for Gregg. The stimulus package has moved in a conservative direction since the days when he was named to the Commerce post. And if he's feeling neutered over the decision to make the Bureau of the Census appointment, which I wrote about at the time, a White House-appointed position, surely he could have worked behind the scenes to make sure someone sufficiently politically independent got the slot. He didn't have to switch caree to guarantee someone who met with his approval got the Commerce slot.
The withdrawal would seem to be very different than that of Tom Daschle's in most ways. There was no hint of financial or personal misdeed about Gregg. But the two withdrawals are similar in the sense that the person's peer group started to come down on them. In the case of Daschle, it was the New York Times and the chattering classes who had begun to transform him from aw-shucks good guy to limousine villain. Likewise, Gregg's peer group was giving him crap back in New Hampshire and he, like Daschle, withdrew although Daschle at least gave the White House a few hours to scramble so they could release simultaneous statements of regret. This time, the White House had no heads up, so far as I have heard. You have to wonder what the president will think about his outstretched hand after its been slapped like this.
Late Update: Gregg has reaffirmed to the ABC affiliate in New Hampshire that he is not running for re-election in 2010. (e.k.)