Jennifer Granholm is a shoo-in for the U.S. Supreme Court.
After all, if the president appoints her, Lt. Gov. John Cherry ascends to the Michigan governor's mansion and ambles into the 2010 election as an incumbent.
The Mitten State's economy is in freefall and unemployment is threatening to hit 20 percent, thanks to Chrysler's bankruptcy and a likely one at GM. Michigan will have hemorrhaged 1.2 million jobs by next year -- a staggering one in four. Voters used to routinely blame George W. Bush for the state's woes, but now Granholm's Tefflon has worn off in polls, although her personal approval rating remains higher.
The lieutenant governor, alas, lacks her sunny smile, Hollywood looks and whizbang oratory. The chipmunk-faced Cherry is universally regarded as a nice man with a far better grip than his boss on the legislative process. But many Democrats lie awake at night fearing he'll be pilloried next year for the rotten economy and end up dragging the party down with him.
If Granholm gets to don the black robe, problem solved. Cherry has instant gravitas as the state's CEO and a chance to show his stuff. And thus, a wobbly governorship stays in the Democratic column.
There's just one hitch with this conventional wisdom theory swirling in Lansing and Washington alike. Hillary Clinton didn't win last November.
No, it's not that Granholm backed her over Barack. President Obama adroitly showed he could push pettiness aside when he tapped Clinton as secretary of state. He's been nothing but complimentary about the governor, appearing at a slew of events with her and naming her to his economic transition team. She's been on the short-list for at least two cabinet posts.
But it's safe to say that if we had President Clinton II, we'd probably already be calling Cherry "Governor" by now. Granholm would be energy secretary as a reward for her undying loyalty; that's just the way the Clintons roll. If there was any doubt, since the governor didn't exactly deliver a knockout Michigan primary blow, the fact that her appointment would buoy the Democrats here would seal the deal.
There's little indication that Obama does business that way. In fact, in naming Joe Biden VP and Ken Salazar Interior Secretary, the president has left two Senate seats in Delaware and Colorado ripe for Republican picking. The Arizona governorship has already gone red with Janet Napolitano (another High Court short-lister) departing for the Department of Homeland Security. The GOP also has a great chance to pick up Kansas next year, since Gov. Kathleen Sebelius nabbed the last spot in Obama's cabinet.
Consider the two people who beat Granholm out for other White House gigs -- Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has rock-solid ties to the unions, as opposed to Granholm's sometimes rocky relationships with the UAW and teachers groups. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a Nobel Laureate. The governor would have done a top-notch job selling cap and trade, but couldn't match the physics professor's global warming expertise.
For the Supreme Court, Granholm again faces stiff competition, including Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
Granholm has been a federal prosecutor and attorney general, but she hasn't been a judge and it's unclear what kind of jurist she'd be. She proceeded over the brief ouster hearing of disgraced Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and won rave reviews, but that doesn't exactly compare to Comey standing up to Bush on warrantless wiretapping, now does it?
It's hard to argue that the governor didn't make the High Court list just to add some star power.
Indeed, every TV station in the country wants to snag an interview with the camera-ready governor, although she's been declining them by the dozens -- on this topic, anyway. After her hairdresser blabbed to the press that Granholm was ready to pack up for a cabinet post, she's been very careful to adopt Obama's solemn tone and vow to finish her job as governor.
For Obama, there would be a personal political downside if he appointed Granholm. While Sotomayor was excoriated in a cowardly New Republic story brimming with anonymous sources, the governor's myriad critics are only too happy to go on the record. Guys like former state GOP Chair Saul Anuzis and former Speaker Craig DeRoche have made careers out of trashing her (always managing to work in her "Dating Game" past) and would love some airtime.
Her Senate confirmation hearing would be must-see TV. Last fall, Granholm humiliated Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Bob Corker over their attempts to kill the Big Three, and they would certainly relish their chance to return the favor.
That's all just a bit too much drama for Obama.
Nevertheless, the former actress is auditioning for a role in Washington -- that much is clear. She's in D.C. at least once a month to lobby for Michigan (and subtly for herself). Turn on CNN and MSNBC, and you'll see the bespectacled governor waxing on about health care and the economy.
The Supreme Court talk is flattering for Granholm, though she pretends to loathe it. But there is a danger here, of which those in her inner circle are keenly aware. When you don't get asked to dance at Prom enough times, the invitations tend to dry up.
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