March 8th, 2011
05:52 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN)– Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is taking himself out of the running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that if DNC chief Tim Kaine steps down to run for the U.S. Senate he will not be a candidate for the post.
"I had an opportunity to do that when my name got floated six months ago," Gibbs told CNN in a telephone interview. "I am not going to run the DNC."
The decision by Gibbs comes as top Democratic officials privately say Kaine is now expected to announce, likely by the end of the week, that he will indeed run for the Senate and vacate his party post though officials stressed a final decision has not been made.
With Gibbs pulling out of contention for the DNC job, top Democratic officials said that former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland seems to be emerging as the leading contender to replace Kaine as chairman. Other Democratic contenders for the post include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) as well as party strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.
"My money would be on [Granholm]," added Brazile, though when asked she noted that Wasserman Schultz and Strickland are other strong candidates for the job too.
Gibbs told CNN he is fielding various offers from the private sector but is "just relaxing" right now and noted the DNC is not even open yet since it is just "speculative" that Kaine may step down.
Nevertheless, Gibbs added that Kaine "would be a great candidate" for Senate and the former White House spokesman is not interested in replacing him. "I had the opportunity to go do that and didn't have any interest," he said.
Gibbs was referring to the fact that his name first emerged for the post late last year when there was some uncertainty about whether Kaine, a close ally of President Obama who was considering for the vice presidential slot in 2008, was going to stay at the helm of the party leadership.
But Kaine revealed on the Jan. 2 edition of CNN's "State of the Union" that he was staying on for another two-year term at the request of Obama. "My agreement with the president is I was going to do what he wants me to do," Kaine said.
It is now clear, however, that Obama and other top Democrats want Kaine to run for an open U.S. Senate seat from his home state of Virginia after the decision by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to not run for re-election in 2012 left the party with yet another seat to defend in a swing state.
Two top Democratic officials privately told CNN that Kaine is expected to run for the Senate seat, though they also added that the popular former governor of Virginia has not informed the White House about a final decision. One senior official, however, speculated that there was an "85 percent" chance that Kaine will run.
Various Democratic party strategists noted that since the president's official re-election committee should be up and running in Chicago in the next few months with former White House aides Jim Messina and David Axelrod in senior roles there, the president will not need an operational leader at the DNC.
Instead the White House is expected to need a vigorous politician in the Kaine mold at the DNC pushing back on Republican leaders in the House and Senate as well as the various GOP presidential contenders, while the mechanics of the campaign are handled in Chicago.
"They need a former elected official who's a good messenger and can go on TV and is from a state they want to win in 2012," said Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. "I think Strickland would be a great pick. Ohio is going to be ground zero."
When he was reminded that Strickland actually lost his re-election bid in that state last year, however, Elmendorf just laughed about a certain political reality that Democrats are facing as they try to rebuild the party infrastructure after the shellacking of 2010.
"Look it was a bad year," Elmendorf said. "Anyone they can get [for the DNC job] probably lost last year."