Hillary Clinton's Nomination Ignites Scramble for Her Senate Seat

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 -- The nomination of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state in the Obama administration has set off an intense political scramble in New York for a cherished prize: her soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

Gov. David A. Paterson, who will make the appointment, is staying quiet for now; he said his decision will come once the seat becomes officially vacant after Clinton is confirmed and steps down, likely to be in mid- to late January.

At a preplanned news conference on taxes, Paterson deflected questions about whom he was considering and insisted that honoring Clinton's service to the state should be the theme of the day.

"We can go through all the gossip and all this stuff tomorrow," Paterson said at one point. "I'm not getting into who the candidates are."

Several names are being floated as front-runners, but a top aide said the governor has not settled on an early favorite.

In this heavily Democratic state, the appointed senator would be the favorite in a special election in 2010 to fill the remaining two years of Clinton's term. In a fluke of the calendar, New York's senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, is running for reelection that year and Paterson will be running for a full term as governor, a job he inherited in March when Eliot L. Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal.

In choosing Clinton's replacement, Paterson is being buffeted by several conflicting interests, said veteran watchers of New York politics. Chief among them is who can provide balance in the crowded 2010 field.

"David's going to be looking for someone who can complement him on the ticket," said a longtime Democratic insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Among other factors, the source said, is whether the person can raise the estimated $35 million needed to run a statewide Senate race in 2010 and another $35 million two years later for reelection.

That calculation alone would tend to favor a well-known Democrat who has name recognition and proven fundraising ability -- specifically Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, a Cabinet official under President Bill Clinton and son of a former governor.

Another possibility is Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island, who would not have trouble raising the money but might draw from the same constituency as Schumer, Democrats said.

Paterson is facing enormous pressure from other constituencies over the seat. African Americans would like to see a black senator from New York and are pushing for Rep. Gregory W. Meeks of Queens for the job. Hispanics are lobbying for one of their own, and the name most frequently mentioned is Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez of Brooklyn. There is also pressure to replace Clinton with a woman; one name being mentioned is Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat from Albany.

Some Democrats said Paterson might be reluctant to name a member of Congress if that meant giving up some of the state's seniority in the House in exchange for a junior role in the Senate. New York's next senator is likely to enter the upper chamber close to last in seniority.

Another Obama Cabinet appointment would also cause political shifts, although none would set off such intense competition as the New York vacancy.

In Arizona, Gov. Janet Napolitano, nominee for secretary of homeland security, will be replaced by Secretary of State Jan Brewer (R). Arizona has no lieutenant governor.

Arizona state Rep. Ed Ableser (D) said losing a Democratic governor to a Republican one will change politics considerably, given the overwhelmingly GOP legislature. He compared it to a hockey team losing its goalie.

"It's somewhat frustrating that we're already hearing talk about cutting education, health care and vital programs to the needy," Ableser said. "It's sad knowing Governor Napolitano won't be there to help us with these fights."

Special correspondent Ashley Surdin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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