White House sources say that President Barack Obama has locked in on Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen as one of two top candidates to replace former Sen. Tom Daschle as his nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary. The other potential nominee is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
"It's down to only a couple of names," says a member of the HHS transition team. "They're both strong candidates. Bredesen was probably in front for a while, but the MoveOn types have just been kicking the crap out of him. That might be a good reason for the president to appoint him, though."
But Obama probably can't afford to have another nominee with more ethics issues lodged against his state administration than Daschle had tax liens.
Bredesen's administration in Tennessee has been tarred with a series of scandals, most of them involving the governor's office in some form or another. For example, back in 2005, it was revealed that almost 100 members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol who were promoted either gave political contributions to the governor's campaign or had family members or influential friends who did. Those promotions represented almost two-thirds of all promotions given that year.
That same year, Bredesen was forced to seek an independent investigation of his own office, after it was reported that his tourism commissioner handed out a $400,000 state contract to a friend, who also served on the governor's transition team.
Finally, in 2005 and 2006 it was reported that Bredesen's office shredded and otherwise sought to contain workplace sexual harassment complaints made against high-ranking state officials or those employees with ties to the governor's office. Similar cases involving low-level civil servants in the state were not treated in a similar fashion.
Radical leftist groups have been attacking Bredesen for cuts he made to the state health-care program, and while he has been pushing to keep his name in the running for the slot, it isn't clear that he a frontrunner any longer.
Kathleen Sebelius, who is similar to Bredesen in that she has cultivated a moderate image, has been considered for several Cabinet level positions by Obama. She is also considered a leading candidate to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.