Obama Seat Still a Prize

Posted December 10, 2008 at 6:56pm

The chaos following Tuesday’s arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) for allegedly conspiring to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat has not cooled the ardor of ambitious Land of Lincoln politicians who want to succeed Obama in the Senate.

On Wednesday, a handful of House Members from Illinois continued to express interest in the seat.

Still to be determined, however, is whether the next Senator from Illinois will be appointed or elected. Blagojevich, who was arrested on an array of corruption charges and still holds the power to appoint Obama’s replacement, went back to work Wednesday — though it is not clear how long he will remain in office.

While several Land of Lincoln leaders have called for a costly special election, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has asked for Blagojevich to resign and for Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who would succeed him, to make the Senate appointment instead.

Meanwhile, state leaders in Springfield, Ill., are reportedly calling back legislators Monday to consider legislation that would fill the Senate seat by special election instead of a gubernatorial appointment. The law could take months to implement, depending on whether and how Blagojevich chooses to act on it — assuming he is still the governor.

All eyes were on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) Wednesday afternoon after it was confirmed that he was the “Senate Candidate Number 5” mentioned in the federal complaint against Blagojevich. In the charges, Blagojevich says an emissary from “Senate Candidate Number 5” offered campaign fundraising aid for Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate seat. Jackson and Blagojevich met for 90 minutes Monday in Chicago to discuss the Senate vacancy.

But in a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday afternoon, Jackson denied any involvement in the scandal, even though he has hired a criminal defense attorney. He said the U.S. attorney’s office in Illinois told him this week that he was not a target of any investigation.

“I did not initiate nor authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Gov. Blagojevich on my behalf,” Jackson said. “I never sent an emissary to the governor to make an offer or to plead my case or to promise a deal about the U.S. Senate seat. Period.”

Jackson, however, did not shy away from listing his qualifications for the Senate. He reiterated that he has the strongest attendance record in Congress, in addition to his other accomplishments.

And in other parts of the Capitol, the Illinois delegation was still humming about prospective candidacies for the statewide office.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) said she was still interested in being named to the Senate, as long as Blagojevich was not involved in the appointment.

“If Pat Quinn would make an appointment, that would be a very different thing,” Schakowsky said. “I’m not interested in a Rod Blagojevich appointment.”

Schakowsky said in a phone interview Wednesday evening that she supports a special election and efforts in the state Capitol to change Illinois law.

“I think at this point, putting it in the hands of the people instead of politicians is a really good idea,” Schakowsky said.

Especially in a special election, some Members from competitive suburban districts such as Reps. Mark Kirk (R) and Melissa Bean (D) could be tempted to run because they would not have to give up their seats to do so. Other candidates with access to large sums of money and an existing campaign apparatus could make formidable bids during a special election.

“I think that’s a free-for-all,” said Eric Adelstein, a Chicago-based consultant who works for Bean and thinks the Congresswoman should consider the race.

Another aide close to Bean said the Congresswoman would consider running if there is a special election.

“Under that scenario, we have to give it some thought because I think most people would agree she’s one of the safest general election candidates for a Democrat in Illinois just because of her moderate suburban profile,” said the Bean aide. “I think up until yesterday, Democrats didn’t need their best.”

As a previously unmentioned candidate, Bean is also unstained from the Blagojevich scandal. The aide said it is unclear whether the two have even spoken since she was elected to office.

Meanwhile, Rep. Danny Davis (D), who has campaigned throughout the state in search of a Senate appointment from Blagojevich, told MSNBC on Wednesday that he would consider his options if a special election is called. Of all the Members of Congress from Illinois, Davis is considered the closest to Quinn.

A special election would give Republicans a good shot at statewide office for the first time in years. In an interview Wednesday, Kirk said he would consider running if there is a special.

“If we have a special election, there will probably be a number of candidates,” Kirk said. “I will look at it, as will others.”

Kirk did not mince words for other Senate appointment candidates who were mentioned in the complaint against Blagojevich.

“I think if they were heavily involved with Rod Blagojevich, they will not be viable for a special election — if they can hold public office at all,” Kirk said.

Kirk said state legislators’ first priority should be removing the governor from office — a lengthy impeachment process that could take weeks, according to a spokesman for Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan’s (D) office.

Spokesman Steve Brown said lawmakers will first deal with the special election legislation, which could be passed through both chambers by midday Tuesday. But given that Blagojevich still holds the governor’s veto power, he could hypothetically sit on the legislation for weeks.

Although the legislation has not been completely written, Brown said it will likely call for a special primary and general election. It would be especially convenient if the bill was signed into law and the special election was held on the same day as upcoming municipal elections in February and March, he said.

Jennifer Bendery and Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.