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For Democrats, Best Choice May be a Republican

There doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus about just whom New Hampshire John Governor, a moderate Democrat, might appoint to replace Judd Gregg in the Senate if Gregg, as now appears somewhat likely, is chosen to be Barack Obama’s Commerce Secretary. The Hill is reporting, however, that sources to Gregg claim that he would not vacate his Senate seat unless a Republican were to be named in his place.

If Gregg’s replacement must be a Republican, there is one name that would allow Lynch to come as close as possible to splitting the difference between the parties. That name is that of former State Representative Liz Hager, who has admitted to her interest in the position.

Hager is a Republican and says she would caucus with the Senate Republicans. Beyond that, however, there is a lot for Democrats to like. Hager, after being primaried out by more conservative opponents for her State House seat, endorsed Barack Obama, citing his pro-choice position. She is also a proud moderate, as the Concord Monitor reports:

Hager said she sees the loss as a victory by the more conservative wing of the Republican Party over moderates. But, she said, she does not envision the primary winners prevailing in the general election. “Clearly, the people who are now in control of the Republican Party don’t want people like me in it,” Hager said. […]

Hager describes herself as a moderate who is “proudly pro-choice, proudly pro-government.” She sponsored a bill in 1999 that would have established an income tax to pay for education. She says her major interest was in “good government and efficient, well-run state government.”

Hager described her opponents as Republicans who are “right-wing, anti-government and want to control social issues.”

Hager said she’s saddened by the low turnout, with the winner getting 395 votes. “I think a lot of people that have been associated with the Republican Party for years are no longer Republicans,” she said.

Hager, a longtime veteran in state government, is a true Rockefeller Republican, the liberal/moderate wing of the party which, until recently, had a fairly strong presence in New England. As the Republican party has gravitated toward conservatives, however, and as the Rockefeller Republicans have simultaneously been co-opted by New Democrats, they have become a dying breed, their vestige only apparent in a few remaining legislators like Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Hager, who has become an active critic of the Republican establishment, would probably legislate to Collins’s and Snowe’s left, and quite possibly to the left of several Senate Democrats, probably doing the most to upset the symmetry between party and ideology of any Senator since Zell Miller (whom, like Hager, was a relic of an older political tradition).

Hager’s appointment would furthermore deprive the Republicans the opportunity to claim that the Democrats had a filibuster-proof monopoly on power. And yet, at a time when their party is struggling to formulate anything resembling a majority coalition, they would seem to have little choice but to accept her, as her appointment would be the result of a Democratic President and Democratic Governor each having taken the unorthodox step of reaching across party lines to select a Republican. The Republicans could, of course, complain with ample justification that Hager was a RINO, but in so doing they would appear immoderate and intolerant at a time when the pretense of moderation and postpartisanship is the name of the game. They might also risk alienating Snowe and Collins, without whose votes the Republicans already lack the power to sustain a filibuster.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.