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Published: 6/7/2010

That's politics

Nobody, least of all Republicans, should be scandalized when politicians play politics. That's what the White House was up to when it indirectly approached Democrats in Pennsylvania and Colorado last year about not running against Obama-backed U.S. Senate candidates. And that's the game Republicans are playing now as they feign shock and demand criminal investigations.

Last summer, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had former President Bill Clinton contact Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak to see whether he'd stay put in the U.S. House and join some unpaid presidential advisory panel rather than challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Sestak gave Democrats their best chance of holding onto his House seat. More important, the White House had promised to back Mr. Specter and likely didn't want to look bad if the former Republican senator failed to survive the primary.

Mr. Sestak said no, then let slip that he'd been approached. Locked in a battle against a five-term - albeit party-switching - incumbent, he could have intended to gain sympathy from undecided Pennsylvania voters who already were unhappy with Mr. Specter's marriage of convenience with Democrats.

Last September, a White House aide approached former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who had been shamelessly shopping himself around for months before deciding to run against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet. The aide reportedly asked whether Mr. Romanoff still was interested in a job with the administration. Mr. Romanoff said no, and that was the end of it.

Republicans claim to be scandalized that the White House would, in the words of California Rep. Darrell Issa, conduct "politics as usual." GOP lawmakers, in a fit of counterfeit virtue, demanded a criminal investigation by the Justice Department or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is nothing new.

In February, we lamented the lack of contested primary elections in both parties for most state and local offices. In March, we railed against the possibility that three elected Democrats from northwest Ohio might resign early to gain political advantage by being appointed to other elected offices in a bizarre game of musical chairs precipitated by former state Rep. Peter Ujvagi's decision to accept the job of Lucas County administrator.

And there was no Republican outrage when Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost - following a meeting of state GOP leaders - abandoned his primary race for state attorney general against former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine to run instead for state auditor.

We would like to see more elections decided the same way as the Senate Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania and Colorado, with voters rather than party bosses choosing the candidates. But that's not the way politics works, as was evident in Mr. Issa's admission that President Obama, by trying to influence Mr. Sestak, had broken his pledge to change "business as usual."

What the White House did was unseemly - and definitely not our preference - but it was hardly criminal.



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