White House Intervened in Colorado U.S. Senate Race

The White House said it discussed the possibility of an administration job with a Colorado Democrat in hopes of dissuading him from seeking the party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. President Barack Obama already had endorsed another candidate, incumbent Senator Michael Bennet.

White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina contacted Andrew Romanoff “to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters,” presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement released today.

Pressed later at his daily briefing, Gibbs said Obama had no prior knowledge of Messina’s overture to Romanoff and that, in any case, there’d be nothing wrong with a party’s top official involving himself in his party’s political affairs.

“The leaders of parties have long had an interest in ensuring” non-competitive primaries, Gibbs said. “The president has, as the leader of the party, an interest in supporters not running against each other.”

Romanoff had applied through official channels for a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development during Obama’s transition and followed it up with a phone call to the White House personnel office.

When he emerged as a contender for Bennet’s seat, Messina reached out to Romanoff, Gibbs said. Romanoff said he was committed to the Senate race and “no longer interested in working for the administration,” and “that ended the discussion,” Gibbs said.

Colorado Primary

Colorado’s Democratic primary is scheduled for Aug. 10. The governor of Colorado appointed Bennet to the Senate seat when Obama tapped Ken Salazar to serve as interior secretary.

It isn’t known why Romanoff didn’t get the job with USAID.

Gibbs’s statement today follows one last night by Romanoff, who said the White House suggested several possible jobs with the administration.

According to a Sept. 11, 2009, e-mail from Messina to Romanoff obtained by Politico, Messina outlined two possible positions at USAID and one as the director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

The posts, according to the e-mail, included: deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting “stable democracies” in the region; director, Office of Democracy and Governance, acting as the “chief operations officer of the Office” helping to define the “scope and objectives of the Agency’s and the Administration’s initiatives to support democracy and foster good governance;” and director, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, overseeing a $55.2 million budget and a staff of 78.

Pennsylvania Race

The case echoes another U.S. Senate race, in Pennsylvania, in which the White House sought to clear the field for Obama’s favored candidate, incumbent Arlen Specter, which has aroused partisan questions about the propriety of such action. Representative Joe Sestak rejected the White House overture and then defeated Specter in the Democratic primary.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said the two incidents “raise serious questions about who is in charge in the Oval Office.”

“The White House chief of staff and his deputy are acting like Chicago party bosses,” Steele said in a statement released by the committee. “Is this President Obama’s White House or Rahm Emanuel’s?”

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