White House: No Backroom Deals in Colorado Race

The White House acknowledged Thursday that one of President Barack Obama's top advisers had approached a Colorado Democrat about possible administration jobs in hopes of discouraging him from running against a candidate the president had endorsed in a Senate race.

The aide "wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

But once the aide learned former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff was determined to run against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, Gibbs added, "There was no offer of a job."

The situation again called into question repeated promises by Obama to run an open government that was above private political horse-trading. Republicans argue that even if it's not illegal, it's inappropriate for an administration that promised an end to business as usual, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid.

GOP Jumps on Report of Romanoff Job Talks

Romanoff on Wednesday night released a copy of an e-mail in which White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina described three federal international development jobs that might be available to him if he were not challenging Bennet for the Democratic nomination.

"He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions," Romanoff said in a statement. "At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one."

On Thursday, Gibbs said Romanoff had applied for a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the transition period before Obama took office.

Gibbs said Messina "called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the U.S. Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.

"But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the administration, and that ended the discussion," Gibbs said.

An embarrassed White House admitted last Friday that it had turned to former President Bill Clinton last year to approach Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak about backing out of a Democratic primary in favor of an unpaid position on a federal advisory board.

Sestak declined the offer and defeated Sen. Arlen Specter late last month after disclosing the job discussions and highlighting them as evidence of his antiestablishment political credentials. He said last week he had rejected Clinton's feeler in less than a minute.

Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who unsuccessfully sought a Justice Department investigation into the Sestak matter, asked Wednesday, "Just how deep does the Obama White House's effort to invoke Chicago-style politics for the purpose of manipulating elections really go?"

"Clearly, Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren't isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of," Issa said. "Whatever the Obama brand used to stand for has been irrevocably shattered by the activities going on inside Barack Obama's White House."

In a two-page report on the Sestak case, the White House counsel said the administration did nothing illegal or unethical.

Unlike Sestak, Romanoff had ducked questions on the subject before issuing his statement Wednesday night. Also unlike Sestak, Romanoff was out of office and looking for his next act after being forced from his job because of term limits.

Romanoff had sought appointment to the Senate seat that eventually went to Bennet, publicly griped he had been passed over and then discussed possible appointment possibilities inside the administration, one of the officials said.

After being passed over for the Senate appointment, the out-of-power Romanoff made little secret of shopping for a political job. Romanoff also applied to be Colorado secretary of state, a job that came open when Republican Mike Coffman was elected to Congress. Gov. Bill Ritter again appointed a replacement and again passed over Romanoff.

Next, according to several Colorado Democrats speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal negotiations, Romanoff also approached Ritter about being Ritter's running mate for Ritter's re-election bid. It was only after that attempt failed, the Colorado Democrats said, that Romanoff joined the Senate contest.

Romanoff still wasn't settled on the Senate race. When Ritter announced in January that he wouldn't seek a second term after all, Romanoff publicly talked about leaving the Senate race to seek the governor's office, though he ended up staying in the Senate contest.

Bennet has outpaced Romanoff in fundraising and support from Washington, although party activists attending the state party assembly last month favored the challenger by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. The primary is Aug. 10.

Bennet was appointed by Ritter to fill out the final two years of the term of Ken Salazar, who resigned to become interior secretary.
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