Obama's Shrewd Feint at Bipartisanship

When President Obama announces the nomination of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) to be secretary of the Army, administration allies will hail the choice as a sign of Obama's bipartisanship, noting Obama's selections of former GOP Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood and Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman for Transportation secretary and ambassador to China, respectively.

Bipartisan, perhaps; shrewd electoral politics, most definitely.

As we have seen, the process of replacing Obama in the Senate has been a fiasco. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has been indicted. His wife is on a reality show. The current senator, Roland Burris (D), is his own sideshow, while several other Illinois Dems have been linked by the scandal, including Sen. Dick Durbin, who apparently considered replacing Obama with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan an "innocuous compromise" (whatever that means).

The seat should be ripe for a GOP pickup. One Illinois Republican who won't be running is LaHood. LaHood, well-regarded as a strong fundraiser and potentially formidable statewide candidate, won't be on a ballot anytime soon. Score one for Obama.

Much was made of Obama's selection of Huntsman to be ambassador to China. On paper, it is a great selection and earned wide bipartisan praise. Huntsman previously served as ambassador to Singapore and is fluent in Mandarin. He is certain to be confirmed by the Senate. What Huntsman won't be is a voice for the GOP. As the party seeks to re-establish itself and determine how to move forward, President Obama removed Huntsman from the conversation. Score another one for the Obama White House.

The selection of McHugh continues Obama's trend of shrewd Republican picks. While McHugh sailed through reelection campaigns in 2006 and 2008 that saw his party all but obliterated in his home state, McHugh's seat is not a slam-dunk for Republican retention. Like they did in the race to fill the former House seat of now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Democrats will cite McHugh's reelection numbers to claim the seat as being overwhelmingly Republican. It's nothing of the sort. In 2004, George W. Bush won McHugh's district with 51 percent; four years later, Obama won with 52 percent. It's a classic swing district.

The White House knows this. While they will talk about being bipartisan, they've demonstrated a shrew political acumen, seeking to stack the deck in their favor one chess piece at a time.