Obama's victory leaves Ill. Senate seat in limbo

November 6, 2008 7:53:33 AM PST
The campaign of change that led Barack Obama to the White House will bring tangible change to Illinois, where embattled Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has the task of selecting the junior U.S. senator's replacement. It's a position of power Blagojevich, whose administration has been dogged by federal investigations, seems to relish.

"I've never had more friends than I do today," he said Wednesday. "And when I make the final decision, I won't have nearly as many as I have now."

The governor could tap practically anyone to fill the remainder of Obama's term, which ends in January 2011. And he made it clear he's not rushing the decision: He said he'd like to make an announcement before Christmas but cautioned that wasn't a promise.

While the law sets no timetable, the appointment is likely to come before the Jan. 3 start of the 111th Congress.

Blagojevich said he doesn't have a favorite candidate and that members of his senior staff would help to vet those interested in the job. The only legal restrictions are that the person must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years and an Illinois resident.

The governor said he didn't want to think about Obama's successor before the election because he was afraid of creating bad karma. "I had this nightmare that if I did that I would jinx him," Blagojevich said.

Still, lobbying for the spot began long before Obama became president-elect, and several Democratic politicians already have emerged as possible replacements.

Blagojevich said some candidates reached out to him before the election and that his administration would seek out others. He also wants Obama's input.

"That would have obviously a great deal of weight on the decision that I would make," Blagojevich said.

He said he had not yet spoken to Obama, whose timeline for resigning his Senate seat was unclear Wednesday.

Much speculation has surrounded members of Illinois' congressional delegation, including Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky. Jackson and Schakowsky served as national co-chairs of Obama's presidential campaign.

The three were among the people Blagojevich called "great candidates out there. This is what makes this so difficult," he said.

Another name repeatedly brought up has been Tammy Duckworth, a disabled Iraq war veteran and 2006 failed congressional candidate. She became the governor's veterans affairs director after losing her first political race.

"I have been very focused on my current position fighting to improve benefits for the state's veterans and their families," Duckworth said in a statement. "My goal is to continue to serve my country in the best way possible."

Blagojevich wouldn't hint about who he might choose, but he did offer a list of issues he'll consider. The governor said he wants someone who shares his goals of expanding access to health care, improving the state's infrastructure and aiding Illinoisans "burdened by taxes and economic hardship."

While Blagojevich wants a senator who agrees with his policy agenda, he doesn't want the job himself.

"I'm not interested in the U.S. Senate, I like my job as governor," he said.

Some have suggested Obama's mentor in Chicago and statehouse politics, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., who announced he would retire in January, may succeed Obama, at least on an interim basis.

Blagojevich detailed Jones' accomplishments Wednesday but cautioned reporters not to read too much into it as he lavished praise on others, including Duckworth, who he called a "superstar."

The governor said a factor in his decision might be picking someone who could seek re-election.

Jones has said Democrat Kwame Raoul, who succeeded Obama in the Illinois Senate in 2004, would be a worthy successor. Raoul said Wednesday that his appointment was unlikely, given the others interested in the job and the "pecking order."

Roland Burris, a two-term state attorney general and three-term state comptroller, has said he would accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate, if offered.

Any number of current state officials also could get the nod, including Comptroller Dan Hynes and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, both potential challengers to Blagojevich in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. If he taps either, he'd have another appointment to make.

Obama is the only black member of the U.S. Senate, and Blagojevich has been under pressure from black leaders to pick a black successor. Jackson, Davis, Jones, Raoul and Burris are black.

Secretary of State Jesse White, who is also black, has ruled out becoming a U.S. senator and said he will seek re-election.

For the governor, with an approval rating in the basement and federal investigations into his administration's handing out of jobs and contracts, appointing a black politician would seem to be a pragmatic move.

Blagojevich has heavily relied on black support in the General Assembly to advance his agenda. He also could use black voters' support in the 2010 primary.

---

Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report.


Load Comments