New Hampshire governor picks GOP senator

February 3, 2009 2:37:24 PM PST
Democratic Gov. John Lynch on Tuesday named Republican Bonnie Newman as his pick for the U.S. Senate, a selection that allows departing GOP Sen. Judd Gregg to become U.S. commerce secretary without handing his old Democratic colleagues a filibuster-proof majority.

The New Hampshire governor's announcement Tuesday that the businesswoman and former government official would become senator came hours after President Barack Obama nominated Gregg to the commerce post.

Lynch said Newman has agreed to serve only the remaining two years of Gregg's six-year Senate term. Gregg's departure is expected to make the seat more competitive next year for Democrats.

Democrats and independents who caucus with them will hold 59 Senate seats if a court case over a race in Minnesota falls their way, and with 60 they would have enough votes to fend off Republican efforts to block legislation. Gregg, however, had indicated he would take the Cabinet job only if the balance of power in the Senate didn't change.

Lynch, who said he has known Newman for 40 years, said her party affiliation didn't drive his choice.

"Bonnie is someone I would have considered regardless of party," he said.

The appointment will not become official until Gregg is confirmed for the commerce job.

Newman praised Gregg and Lynch and promised to throw herself into the job wholeheartedly.

"My primary reason for accepting this assignment is my belief that we are at a critical time in our nation's history," she said.

Newman, 63, was Gregg's chief of staff in the 1980s, oversaw administrative operations for the White House under President George H.W. Bush, and has served as interim president of the University of New Hampshire and executive dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She has never held elective office.

Despite being a Republican, she was an early and strong backer of Lynch's campaigns.

Newman would become New Hampshire's second female senator in a matter of months. Democrat Jeanne Shaheen beat Republican incumbent John E. Sununu in November to become the first woman from the state to hold a Senate seat.

Newman, who lives in North Hampton, grew up in Lawrence, Mass., and has an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master's in education in higher education adminstration. In the private sector, she founded a radio station, was executive vice president at Exeter Trust and was president of the New England Council, a regional business association.