Davis, Jackson Angle for Senate

Posted December 8, 2008 at 6:33pm

More than a month after Election Day the staples of campaign season — political jockeying, polls, press conferences and newspaper endorsements — are still raging in Illinois.

But this time the candidates are seeking a single vote: that of embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is expected to announce his appointment to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s now vacant Senate seat before the end of the year.

“I guess it is more of a campaign than I had envisioned because you’re only trying to get one vote — and that’s the governor’s vote,” Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said.

Speculation has focused on a handful of Democrats, including Davis, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, state Senate President Emil Jones and Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth. However, the decision is solely under the control of an unpopular Blagojevich, who sources cautioned could also appoint a person outside that group.

Davis and Jackson are waging the most public campaigns by far for the appointment — a strategy that historically has not proved to be all that effective.

Davis is campaigning hard — harder than he has even had to campaign in his overwhelmingly Democratic West Side Chicago district. His spokeswoman Tumia Romero said the Congressman did several events over the weekend with supporters who have endorsed him for the Senate appointment. From a press conference with Chinese-American community leaders in Chicago’s Chinatown to meetings with elected officials in Aurora and Rockford this weekend, Davis himself is not shy about the fact that he wants the seat.

“We decided that we better let people know that we are interested, that I am interested, that it is indeed something that I would be delighted to do,” Davis said. “And quite frankly, it’s been very easy to get people around the state to say that they are delighted to host events at press conferences in their local communities.”

And on Sunday, Romero said Davis met with a conference of Illinois farmers who recognized his contributions to the agricultural community. There is barely a block of arable land in the Congressman’s district, but Romero points out that Davis’ father was a farmer.

Although Davis said he last spoke to Blagojevich on Thanksgiving, Jackson had the governor’s ear this week. At a press conference Monday afternoon, the embattled governor said he was scheduled to meet with Jackson later that day.

Though his office says Jackson has not hosted or attended any press conferences supporting his appointment for the Senate, Chief of Staff Kenneth Edmunds was quick to point out the Congressman’s qualifications for the job. In a memo to reporters, Jackson’s qualifications for the Senate are outlined and polling data showing his electability is presented.

“Like President-elect Obama, Congressman Jackson is a young progressive, and from Chicago’s South Side,” the memo states. “So, the two share generational, political, geographical, and philosophical similarities.”

Additionally, Edmunds said outside groups were hosting events in support of Jackson for the open Senate slot.

“We are honored that elected officials have held press conferences supporting Congressman Jackson as a successor to President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat,” Edmunds said.

According to sources who have worked closely with the Congressional Black Caucus, the relationship between Jackson and Davis is said to be positive, though the 24-year age difference between the two Members is a wide generational gap.

Davis, 67, has even been mentioned by some local operatives as a possible placeholder for the seat for the next two years, which would effectively leave a Democratic primary wide open for the 2010 race.

Jones, who at 73 years old would be considered a placeholder for the seat, has been shy about his interest in the spot until recently. The longtime Democratic politician, who is black, confirmed his interest in the seat on a local radio program on Friday, and also said the vacancy should be filled by a black candidate.

CBC sources emphasized that the new Senator must be able to work closely with Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has said he does not want a placeholder.

“Whoever is selected will need to be a person who will be need to be a great legislating partner for the Senate Majority Whip,” said one source who has worked with both Jackson and Davis.

Durbin spoke with Blagojevich at the end of November about the open seat — the first time the two Democrats had reportedly spoken in months. Durbin backed Duckworth in her failed Congressional bid in 2006, but he said in late November that this does not signify she is his pick for the seat.

Duckworth and Madigan, however, have been less public in expressing their desire for the Senate appointment. Blagojevich will only pick Madigan, sources say, if he would like to get her out of local politics and avoid a primary challenge from her in 2010.