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Inside Politics

Sources: Dem approached for agriculture post

Nelson won't confirm discussion with Rove

From Ed Henry and John King
CNN Washington Bureau

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Sen. Ben Nelson faces a potentially tough re-election race in 2006.
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Karl Rove
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has been approached about becoming agriculture secretary in the Bush administration, according to two sources.

His appointment could add a second Democrat to Bush's Cabinet, as well as possibly increasing the GOP's Senate majority.

Republican Gov. Mike Johanns would get to choose Nelson's replacement, which could increase the GOP's advantage in the Senate to 56 seats.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced her resignation Monday.

President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, spoke to Nelson about the possibility in a telephone conversation last Friday, according to the two sources familiar with their conversation. Nelson has thus far declined to accept what the sources described as an offer or solicitation.

Nelson told CNN he could not confirm or deny that an offer from Rove was made, adding that he is "happy" in his current job.

But when pressed as to whether he would consider the job if Bush offered it, Nelson said, "Any time the president talks, you listen."

Attempts to reach Rove for comment were not immediately successful. His office would not confirm or deny a specific conversation with Nelson, adding that it is Rove's practice not to divulge private conversations with members of Congress.

Two Bush administration officials said they were not aware of any job offer or discussion of a Cabinet post with Nelson. However, one of the officials confirmed that Rove spoke with Nelson in recent days, characterizing the call as an effort to reach out to discuss second-term priorities.

Nelson, 63, a former two-term governor, faces a potentially tough re-election race in 2006, running as a Democrat in a state that Bush carried by 33 points. However, the Nebraska moderate has been willing to cross the aisle to support Bush's agenda, including his tax cuts and the war in Iraq.

Given Nelson's past work with the administration, a senior administration aide said he had "certainly the profile of someone we would look at" because of his past experience as a governor. He also hails from a major farm state.

Currently, the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet is Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.


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