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NH senator-in-waiting is used to being called upon

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HOLLY RAMER | February 3, 2009 05:14 PM EST | AP

CONCORD, N.H. — Bonnie Newman has made a career out of being plucked from one high-profile job and plugged into another.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch selected Newman on Tuesday for her most visible job yet: to replace Judd Gregg, the new commerce secretary nominee, in the U.S. Senate. If Gregg is confirmed, Newman would finish the last two years of his Senate term but has agreed not to run for the seat in 2010.

Though she's never held elective office, Newman has held leadership positions in government, higher education and the private sector. She was Gregg's chief of staff in the 1980s, oversaw administrative operations for the White House under George H.W. Bush, served as interim president of the University of New Hampshire and was executive dean at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

She is currently on the board of Exeter Trust Co., an investment firm, and FairPoint Communications Inc., a telephone company.

Friends and colleagues praise Newman as a thoughtful listener and firm decision-maker who sets aside her personal agenda to ensure jobs get done.

Patrick Oliver recruited Newman away from her Commerce Department job in the Reagan administration and persuaded her to become president of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. They have remained close friends in the nearly three decades since.

"Whenever people have felt a need for a new direction in a spot, someone to step in where there might have been problems in the past, she has proven herself to be very able and willing and has done a tremendous job in those capacities," Oliver said. "I doubt that she has ever applied for a job. I suspect that they've always called her from her present place of employment and talked her into taking something."

University of New Hampshire Provost Bruce Mallory said that during Newman's tenure as interim president in 2006 and 2007, she went out of her way to make sure those who disagreed with her understood where she was coming from. He praised her ability to juggle lots of information, listen carefully and then make firm decisions.

"She's somebody who has such a clear sense of herself and doesn't need anyone's approval," he said. "She doesn't ever hold her punches on issues and decisions she thinks are important, but she always comes across as clear and calm."

Mallory said Newman always showed a genuine curiosity about opposing views.

"In a lot of ways, she's a moderate in her whole life," he said. "She's a reflective person. She's not impulsive."

Both he and Oliver described Newman as someone who focuses on getting a job done without a personal agenda. Mallory said she is well-suited for the Senate, which will require plenty of compromise.

"She's not in it for herself," Mallory said. "She would step in for the state of New Hampshire, do what needs to be done, and then go back to playing golf."

David Carney is a Republican consultant from New Hampshire who served as a White House political director during Newman's time there. Given her support of Lynch, Newman isn't the type to blindly toe the Republican line, Carney said. But he doesn't expect her to stray far from Gregg's fairly conservative voting record, either.

"I think she would bring the same kind of interest Judd has had in higher education and business and finance. Other than the fact of his seniority, and his gravitas on some of these huge economic issues, I don't think her voting record will be all that different than Judd's," Carney said.

Newman, who is 63 and lives in North Hampton, grew up in Lawrence, Mass., and has an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master's in education in higher education administration. She started her career at UNH in 1969 as assistant dean of students.

In the private sector, she founded a radio station, was executive vice president of Exeter Trust and was president of the New England Council, a regional business association.