After Daschle, No Obvious Choices for Obama

In the wake of Tom Daschle's implosion, media speculation on Barack Obama's next nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services has focused mainly on four names. Three of them are (fairly) logical candidates for the job. One is not.

The name that doesn't belong is Howard Dean's. The former DNC chairman remains a beloved figure among his party's grassroots and his background as a physician and as a governor who pursued health care reform in his state would seem to make him a decent HHS selection. Plus, he'd bring an outsize profile to the job, one equal to the massive task – overseeing the administration's efforts to deliver universal health insurance – that will come with the HHS perch. Not surprisingly, Dean's fans are pushing him aggressively for the job.

But we already know where Dean stands with the new president, whose first act after winning last November's election was to tap Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. In 2006, Emanuel made it his mission to undermine Dean's control of the DNC, vilifying him to the press, berating him with profanity-laced tirades in meetings and uniting the party's congressional leaders against him. When Obama appeared with Tim Kaine to announce the Virginia governor's selection as the new DNC chairman early last month, Dean wasn't invited – an oversight that was as rude as it was intentional. Fair or not, Obama clearly wants nothing to do with Dean.

The three other possible contenders make more sense, though each has obvious drawbacks.

Start with Kathleen Sebelius, the Kansas governor who, according to an Associated Press report on Sunday, is "very near the top" of Obama's list. Unlike Dean, Sebelius has a strong relationship with Obama, whom she endorsed early in last year's primary campaign and whose running-mate list she was also very near the top of last summer.

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