Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis has emerged as a strong contender for U.S. Attorney for Oregon.

Oregon's senior U.S. senator, Ron Wyden, is expected to form a selection panel before recommending a name to the new administration.

Marquis has known Wyden since they worked together in 1974, when Marquis was a law clerk and Wyden was student.

But, more importantly, Marquis said the Obama administration has demonstrated it is selecting people to serve based on merit.

Marquis said he drafted an endorsement by the National District Attorneys Association of Eric Holder for U.S. Attorney General. The endorsement helped change the minds of some of Holder's opponents. Holder is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate today.

Wyden is expected to make a recommendation to President Barack Obama's administration about whom to appoint to the U.S attorney for Oregon within the next couple of months.

U.S. attorneys represent the United States in federal government, district courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Obama administration has yet to say whether it will retain Bush appointee Karin Immergut in Oregon. If it doesn't, there will be plenty of interested candidates besides Marquis.

New presidential administrations typically replace sitting U.S. attorneys of another party after taking office. Immergut, a Republican who was appointed Oregon's top federal prosecutor in October 2003, has applied to become a state circuit court judge.

If the Obama administration does seek a new U.S. attorney in Oregon, Marquis is one of three prominent prosecutors who have expressed interest in the job. The others are Dwight C. Holton, an assistant U.S. attorney for Immergut, who worked in the Clinton administration, and Pete Shepherd, who recently resigned as Oregon's deputy attorney general.

Marquis said this morning that "you don't really throw your hat in the ring" for this job.

"If you're interested in the job, as I am, you put in a letter of appointment," he said.

Marquis said he likes being the district attorney of Clatsop County, and it is his intention to stay. He added that he intends to run for re-election next year. If he's appointed to the U.S. attorney position, he and his wife will maintain their home in Astoria, he said.

But Marquis said he would be proud to serve under Obama's administration. "(Obama) appears to be appointing people based on merit, not on politics," Marquis said.

Marquis added that 10 years ago, the state of Clatsop County's District Attorney's office would have prevented him from leaving.

"The DA's office is a good place - a good office which will continue to be a good office if I left," he said. "It's taken a number of years, and the work of a lot more people than just me, to make it happen."

Wyden's chief of staff, Josh Kardon, described Marquis, Holton and Shepherd as contenders, but said others have shown interest. "Based on phone calls I've received, I'm anticipating other strong candidates," Kardon said.

The Justice Department sent an e-mail to its U.S. attorneys earlier this month, asking them to stay put for now.

Appointments of the U.S. attorneys in various districts, including Oregon, would be made in the coming months.

Immergut has said it would be inappropriate for her to comment.

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