Friendless Governor Would Name Obama’s Successor

Posted February 6, 2008 at 6:35pm

It’s all in the hands of the man some locals call “G-Rod.” Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is charged with appointing a successor to Sen. Barack Obama (D) if he steps down from the Senate — and up to the White House. It’s a scenario that is looking increasingly possible as the freshman Senator racked up even more delegates in this week’s Super Tuesday battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Yet for Blagojevich, the choice for the open Senate spot might not be who he would like to reward with the office, but rather who he would like to get out of the state Capitol. Or more specifically, whomever Blagojevich would like to avoid facing in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2010.

“At this point, the governor has no allies — that’s the problem,” said Chicago-based Democratic consultant Kitty Kurth. “The governor has just really positioned himself in a corner with just him around him. Who is still even speaking to him at this point that he would appoint?”

Although Blagojevich’s office did not return calls for comment Wednesday, the likely contenders for a Senate appointment are current statewide Democratic officeholders: Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Comptroller Dan Hynes. Obama’s term lasts until 2010.

“He would most likely make the appointment to get his strongest challenger out of the governor’s race,” Kurth said.

Madigan’s father, state Speaker and state Democratic Party Chair Michael Madigan, has been butting heads with Blagojevich in the state Capitol.

“If the governor really wants to screw the Speaker and make a statement … why not move [Lisa Madigan] up and out?” said one Illinois Democratic strategist.

Madigan is rumored to be mulling a gubernatorial bid in 2010.

“I’m sure the governor would like to place Lisa somewhere other than in the Democratic primary for governor next time around,” the strategist added.

Though less often mentioned as a candidate for governor in 2010, Hynes and Blagojevich are often at odds as well. Hynes — whose father is a powerful Chicago machine politician — has already run for the Senate seat, finishing second to Obama in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary.

Blagojevich could also send yet another Democrat with mass appeal, the charismatic and younger state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, to Washington in order to avoid him in the primary.

But if Blagojevich instead saw the Senate spot as a reward for loyalty to his administration, then he could appoint one of his allies to the seat.

According to state insiders, Blagojevich still has fairly decent relations with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D). And because Obama is currently the only black Senator, appointing another black politician might fit into his reasoning.

However, Jackson’s chief of staff, Kenneth Edmonds, demurred when asked whether the Chicago Congressman would be interested.

“As a national chair of Obama’s presidential campaign, the Congressman is working hard for Senator Obama’s success in the upcoming primary contests,” Edmonds said. “He’s not looking beyond the next few critical weeks and months.”

Along the same lines, Blagojevich could also consider appointing Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) in a nod to Chicago’s Hispanic community.

“I think you could look to the Congressional delegation for some good candidates, including some good minority candidates, if he feels inclined to replace Barack with another minority,” said Chicago political consultant John Kupper.

The governor last year appointed 2006 Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth to run the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Kupper, who worked on Duckworth’s campaign but said he has not talked to her about this matter, said she would make a solid Senate pick. She was well-liked by Illinois Democrats, including both sitting Senators and Rep. Rahm Emanuel. Duckworth was not available for comment on the matter.

“I think she’d be a wonderful pick and she would bring something new to the Senate in terms of being an Asian-American woman and a wounded Iraq veteran,” Kupper said. “She’s someone that Blagojevich at least felt positive enough about to appoint her to his administration.”

One local consultant suggested that Blagojevich could even appoint his closest ally in the entire state: himself.

“I don’t think anybody could pretend to know what is on the governor’s mind,” said another Democratic consultant. “I have no idea who he might consider. I wouldn’t even know where to start. He pretty much keeps his own counsel on everything.”