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Illinois Governor Eyes Obama Replacement

Land of Lincoln Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) said on Wednesday that he was forming a panel to vet potential Senate replacements for President-elect Obama.

“Because it’s important that the best person for Illinois is selected, I want to be clear that the calendar won’t dictate our search,” Blagojevich said in a statement. “Instead, I want to ensure that Obama’s successor will understand and fight for the needs of average Illinoisans.”

Blagojevich said the panel would be made up of “diverse senior staff” of his administration, but he declined to name names or indicate when the panel would convene. Still, the panel’s recommendations are expected to weigh heavily on the embattled governor’s ultimate decision, as he balances a delicate mix of racial, legal and political considerations — not least of which is his own re-election in 2010.

As of Wednesday, the short list of potential Obama replacements included: Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), state Comptroller Dan Hynes (D), state Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth (D), retiring state Senate President Emil Jones (D), state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), and marketing consultant Dan Seals (D), who lost his second consecutive race last night to Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

Jackson, a national Obama campaign co-chairman, has voiced the most interest in the job in recent weeks. Still, Jackson’s naming is not a done deal, sources say, as the civil rights scion would face a tough election for a full term in two years, likely facing suburban and rural voters who have outright disdain for the lawmaker’s father, a Windy City political fixture for four decades.

“He’s got high negatives, but it’s mostly because of his dad,” an Illinois Democratic operative said. “There are high negatives that come with his name simply because he is the son of Jesse Jackson, particularly in the suburbs and Downstate. It could be a hindrance outside of the Chicago area.”

Jackson’s on-again, off-again relationship with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D), the source said, also may be a factor in the lawmaker’s bid.

For now, the Chicago Democratic machine, led by Daley, appears to be sitting out the Obama replacement stakes, perhaps in the hopes of avoiding the watchful eye of the International Olympic Committee.

Chicago is vying with Tokyo; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Madrid, Spain, for the 2016 Olympics, according to news reports. The winner will be announced next October.

“The mayor believes that the Congressman has not done all that he could do from his position on the Appropriations Committee to bring resources to Chicago,” the source said.

“You’ve got to pick your fights,” the source continued. “The mayor hasn’t really tipped his hand on this. For one, outside of the presidential race, he’s really tried not to make a lot of waves because he wants the Olympics in 2016.”

And should he get the nod, complicating matters for Jackson would be deciding whom to support to succeed him in his South Side district, a choice that could potentially complicate his home life: The lawmaker’s wife, Chicago Alderwoman Sandi Jackson, is said to want a shot at the seat.

“It’s not clear to me that the Jacksons could get both” a House and Senate seat, an Illinois Democratic source said. “He’d have to give up something to get the support he’d need” for the Senate seat.

“It’d be difficult to say to the mayor, state legislators, community organizations: ‘I’d really like you to be with me in an election battle,’” the source continued. “And, ‘Oh, by the way, my wife, also.’”

But in Jackson’s favor — as well as Seals’, Jones’ and Raoul’s — is a consensus among Democratic operatives in the state that Blagojevich should replace the Senate’s lone black Member with another African-American, for both noble and political reasons.

“The African-American constituency is his last loyal constituency,” a state Democratic operative said. “If Blagojevich thinks in some alternate universe that he’s going to run for re-election, then he is going to reward [them] and his pure goal for his own self- interest is to buy the absolute loyalty of his last-remaining constituency: the African-American community.”

Obama’s historic election on Tuesday night also stands to shift the political landscape elsewhere in Illinois and in Delaware, where Vice President-elect Biden’s rare Election Day Senate and White House twofer means a replacement will soon be in the works.

On Wednesday, multiple news sources reported that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), formerly a Clinton White House aide, will become Obama’s chief of staff, creating a vacancy in the North Side Chicago district once held by Blagojevich and legendary Chicago Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D).

By late Wednesday, a short list of possible Emanuel replacements was circulating and included former Emanuel aide John Borovicka (D) and Bill Daley Jr., son of Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley.

Although it remains uncertain exactly when Biden will relinquish his Senate seat, some Delaware insiders expect him to do so before Congress reconvenes in January to allow his successor to begin his or her job with the new Congress.

When Biden does step down, outgoing Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) will most likely be the one to appoint a replacement until a special election can be held in 2010 (although the task could technically fall to Gov.-elect Jack Markell (D) if Biden waits until the last minute to give up his Senate seat). Minner has indicated that she is not interested in the Senate job.

Conventional wisdom has long been that Biden’s son, Beau, who serves as state attorney general, would one day replace his father in the Senate. But that situation is complicated and there are several reasons why Delaware insiders don’t expected Minner to appoint Beau Biden to the job despite her close connection to the Biden family.

First and foremost, Beau Biden, who serves in the Delaware Army National Guard, has been deployed to Iraq for a nine-month tour. Military law does not allow him to serve in elective office during that time.

Beau Biden has also proved in the past that he’d rather run for a job than be appointed to it. In 2005, Minner offered to appoint him to the state attorney general when that post unexpectedly opened up, but he declined in favor of running for the job outright.

If that were the case, Minner could appoint a placeholder to hold the job until the special election, in which Beau Biden, coming off an overseas deployment, could make a very attractive candidate. And that move might also set the stage for a major political showdown in Delaware if former Gov. and longtime GOP Rep. Mike Castle decides to toss his hat into the ring for the Senate job.

One possible placeholder mentioned by Delaware insiders on Wednesday was state Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron Steele, who is close to Minner and was once a state Democratic Party operative before going into the judiciary.

But if a Biden candidacy were off the table, Minner could also use her appointment to give another Democrat a leg up on holding the seat by giving that person two years to become established in the Senate before the 2010 election.

There’s already a strong sentiment in some circles for Minner to appoint outgoing Lt. Gov. John Carney (D), who lost a closely contested gubernatorial primary this year. Carney confirmed his interest in the seat to Delaware newspapers but said that if he took the job he would not be interested in stepping aside in two years.

John McArdle contributed to this report.

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