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Illinois: Cheryle Jackson takes step towards Senate bid, GOP’s gubernatorial field gets crowded

Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is close to getting company in the Illinois Senate race. I’m not talking about Chris Kennedy, Lisa Madigan, Mark Kirk or even Roland Burris; rather, the second politician to take an official step towards a bid is Cheryle R. Jackson, the head of the Chicago Urban League.

Today, Jackson announced that she will form an exploratory committee by the end of the week. While that does not guarantee that she’ll end up joining the race, it is a clear sign of intent that guarantees Jackson will now be part of any discussion of this Senate contest.

Provided that Madigan does not enter the race - her candidacy is looking more plausible than was expected - the Democratic primary will be wide open and Jackson would be a strong candidate. She might have no campaign experience, but her resume (her years at top executive positions at NPR, Amtrak and the Urban League) should make a highly credible candidate - not to mention a good fundraiser.

Now that Rep. Danny Davis is positioning himself to run for Cook County Board President rather than for Senator, Jackson could very well emerge as the only African-American in a position to win any of the 2010 Senate races. Since this election concerns the seat currently held by Roland Burris, that would also make Jackson the only hope for the Senate to still have a black Senator come January 2011 (not that one is a particularly impressive number to begin with).

That might not guarantee Jackson the nomination, but such considerations should help her bid. Indeed, Giannoulias and Kennedy are expected to get substantial establishment support so for other candidates (but Madigan) to immerse themselves will likely require them to run an insurgent campaign. As such, potentially being the only African-American and the only woman in the race could help Jackson.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether this is the campaign strategy Jackson should adopt. While Schakowsky’s left-leaning and union-friendly politics would have ensured her labor endorsements and made her the liberal base’s candidate, Jackson’s business background (she sits on the board of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce) could make it more difficult for her to take such a route - though her years heading the Chicago Urban League make her a prominent civil rights leader.

Perhaps most problematically, Jackson could be weighed down by her years serving in the Rod Blagojevich’s administration; she was deputy chief of staff of communications until October 2006, a time at ethical troubles had already started for Blagojevich. We’ll have to see how much voters are willing to overlook Blago connections, and whether Jackson’s rivals would even be willing to bring this up.

Meanwhile, Republicans keep jumping in the Governor’s race

In my latest “weekly update,” you might have noticed that the Republican primary for the gubernatorial race is getting crowded. There are now four Republicans running: state Senator Bill Bradly, state Senator Matt Murphy, consultant Dan Proft and DuPage Co. Board chairman Bob Schillerstrom. State Senator Kirk Dillard also recently expressed his interest.

What is going on? How can a race that Democrats are heavily favored to win - whether Pat Quinn coasts to the nomination or whether Lisa Madigan jumps in - attract so many Republicans? And could this result in a GOP takeover of Springfield?

For one, all three of the state Senators listed in the above list are not up for re-election until 2012. As such, they do not have to give up anything to run for Governor next year, so a statewide candidacy could be a good way for them to increase their profile without risking their career, thus preparing themselves for future contests.

If the eventual nominee has some fundraising success and emerges as a strong presence, it’s certainly not impossible that the GOP might mount a competitive race - especially if the Blagojevich scandal continues to float on state politics (after all, the former Governor might face a trial in 2010, putting the story back in the news) - though let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Illinois remains a staunchly Democratic state, especially now that we have entered the Obama era.

Furthermore, this abundance of candidates might signal that state Republicans don’t believe it’s likely that Mark Kirk will jump in. The moderate representative, last seen voting in favor of the Waxman-Markey Act, is generally described as the GOP’s best hope of winning a statewide race; he remains publicly undecided about his 2010 plans, having ruled out none of his three options - running for the House, for Senate and for Governor. Given that any of these Republicans would be underdogs against Kirk, would they not wait for him to clarify his intentions if they thought it plausible that he might run for Governor?

I was going to add that the fact that no Republicans has jumped in the Senate race signals that Kirk is seriously considering that race, but I quickly realized that is not necessarily the case. If these state Senators mount a federal campaign, they won’t be able to use their current campaign funds and they won’t be able to transfer eventual leftover contributions to their statewide run back to their state account. That would surely defeat some of the purpose of mounting these long shot campaigns. (As we discussed before, Madigan has her own version of this dilemma.)

IL, NJ and VA polls find good news for Madigan, Kirk, Christie and McDonnell

Illinois: Here’s why we’re waiting for Madigan and Kirk

Public Policy Polling has just released the first comprehensive look at Illinois’s statewide races. The fact that many potential candidates (Roland Burris, Mark Kirk, Jan Schakowsky and Lisa Madigan) have yet to announce their intentions makes the situation confused but there is plenty to chew over with two competitive Democratic primaries and two competitive general election. Let’s get right to the Senate race:

  • Burris’s approval rating among likely Democratic voters: 27% to 49%. Among the general election electorate: 17%. Needless to say, those numbers do not make him a viable candidate.
  • In the Democratic primary, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias would crush Senator Roland Burris 49% to 20% in a two-way match-up; if Rep. Schakowsky were in the race, Giannoulias would lead 38% to 26% for Schakowsky and 16% for Burris; if Madigan were to also enter the race (she is not expected to), she would crush the field, receiving 44% to 19% for Giannoulias.
  • Rep. Mark Kirk would have a strong shot at winning the general election. He unsurprisingly crushes Burris 53% to 19%, leads Schakowsky 37% to 33%, ties Giannoulias at 35%, and trails Madigan 49% to 33%.

If Kirk does enter the race, it would undoubtedly make this a competitive contest - no matter Illinois’s blue leanings. PPP’s write-up suggests that the poll’s internals suggest the situation isn’t that rosy for Kirk, but the reverse case could easily be made as a man who represents 1/19th of the state, is tied with a statewide official. PPP does a lot of great work, but their analyses tend to do their best to minimize the threat faced by Democratic Senators (like Colorado’s Bennet), so let’s say it: Colorado and Illinois (pending Kirk’s decision) are highly endangered Democratic seats.

This survey also comes as Kirk and Schakowsky are considering jumping in the race, and it should reassure them both that they would not be giving up their House seat for nothing: Kirk would certainly have a shot at the general election, and Schakowsky is in a competitive position against Giannoulias. It is a shame that no Giannoulias-Schakowsky match-up was tested, as I would be fascinated to know where Burris’s supporters would go; similarly, I’d be interested to see how another African-American contender would fare. (Given the size of this survey, however, it is understandable no additional trial heats were conducted.)

Moving on to the gubernatorial election:

  • Governor Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan both have solid approval and favorability numbers, but Madigan is simply better liked. In a Democratic primary, she crushes Quinn 45% to 29%.
  • Both Democrats beat little-known Republican state Sen. Bill Brady: Madigan is ahead 46% to 27%, Quinn leads 39% to 32%. Not particularly strong numbers, driven by relatively weak showing among Democratic voters (Quinn only receives the support of 58% of his party’s base).

Keep in mind that Kirk is as likely to jump in the gubernatorial race than in the senatorial one. In fact, the only reason he might choose the latter is not to cross path with Madigan, and PPP’s senatorial trial heat between the two confirmed that the Attorney General would be a clear heavy favorite to beat Kirk. But might Kirk be competitive against Quinn?

The take-home lessons: Burris is not politically viable, Madigan would be a formidable candidate for whichever race she chooses, Giannoulias starts with a slight edge over Schakowsky and Kirk would be competitive.

New Jersey: Corzine remains under 40%

The latest poll of New Jersey’s gubernatorial race confirms Quinnipiac’s finding from last week: Jon Corzine is no longer in free fall. But that’s no reason to consider the new Monmouth University survey good news for the Governor. Two trial heats were tested: Probable GOP nominee Chris Christie leads the Governor 39% to 35%; against Steve Lonegan, Corzine is ahead 37% to 33%.

In Monmouth’s previous poll, released in January, Corzine led Christie by 2% and Lonegan by 16%. As such, the trendline is not good for the Governor. Yet, too much time has passed since January for this trendline to be meaningful. Since then, a number of polls have found Corzine trailing Christie by double-digits, and a 4% deficit is as good a margin as he has gotten since February.

On the other hand, it is clear that the Democrat is unable to rise above 40% - a level he has not reached for months. It would be one thing for Corzine to trail consistently but poll in the low 40s; but to for any incumbent to be stuck in the mid-30s suggests too big a hole for an easy recovery to be conceivable.

Virginia: McDonnell has an edge

The week also brought the first poll of Virginia’s gubernatorial primary to find one of the three Democratic contenders (namely Terry McAuliffe) with a clear lead.  Unfortunately for said Democrat, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell has the clear edge in the general election:

  • In the Democratic primary, McAuliffe receives 38%, while Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran each get 22%.
  • In the general election, McDonnell leads 44% to 39% against Deeds; 46% to 39% against McAuliffe and 46% to 34% against Moran.

While other polls have also found McDonnell leading all three Democrats, SUSA’s results are somewhat surprising as other surveys have not found Moran facing such an electability hole: PPP’s recent poll had Moran trailing McDonnell by only 1%, while McAuliffe and Deeds were further behind. Similarly, SUSA’s survey paints a more pessimistic than usual primary situation for Moran, as other polls have not found him trailing McAuliffe by such a significant margin.

Running for Governor: Lisa Madigan, Rick Lazio and Linc Chaffee stay in the mix

Madigan concentrating on gubernatorial race

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was long known to have gubernatorial ambitions, and she was expected to challenge the embattled Rod Blagojevich in the 2010 primary. But Blagojevich’s fall has complicated matters: The state’s new Governor, Pat Quinn, has no obvious vulnerability heading into next year’s contest. That had sparked speculation that Madigan might consider challenging Roland Burris in the Senate race instead.

According to The Chicago Tribune, that is not an option: Lisa Madigan looks to be solely concentrating on the possibility of a gubernatorial run, and she says that she will make up her mind “in the next few months.” That is obviously worrisome news for Quinn, as a showdown with Madigan would be tough: Not only does she have name recognition and the support of her family’s powerful political machine, but it can difficult for a non-elected official to win a contest on his own.

This development also has great significance for the Senate race, as it removes one of the main Democratic candidates. That makes it potentially tougher to envision a Burris victory, as the incumbent can only hope to survive in the midst of a crowded Democratic primary: If Madigan, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and former Secretary William Daley were all in the race, they would all be expected to pull substantial levels of support, potentially enabling Burris to win the nomination with only a small plurality of the vote.

Madigan’s closing the door to a Senate run could also open the door to Rep. Jan Schalowsky, who could stand out as the only woman in a crowded race.

That same article contains another potentially important nugget: Former Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, a Republican who lost to Blagojevich in his 2006 re-election race, is considering running for “one of the state’s financial-oriented offices.” Topinka is considered one of the few Republicans who could mount a credible statewide bid in 2010, along with Reps. Kirk and Roskam. That she is reportedly not considering running for Senate or for Governor makes it much harder for the GOP to hope to contest these two races.

Rick Lazio, Linc Chaffee, Ron Sparks: Old news, confirmed and unconfirmed

In January, we learned that former Rep. Rick Lazio was mulling a gubernatorial run. We have heard little form him since, but it looks like Lazio is still very much considering jumping in the race: He traveled upstate this week-end to meet with Republican officials in the Buffalo region! While Lazio’s candidacy would be a tough sell since he has been out of politics for 9 years and that he has worked as a banking executive ever since, his entry would be a very positive development for the GOP since it would give them at least one credible and recognizable challenger - not to mention that Lazio was left untarnished by the Bush years and he could play the white ethnic card. Whether Lazio (or any Republican) has a chance at winning the race probably depends on whether Andrew Cuomo challenges David Paterson for the Democratic nomination.

Two weeks ago, news broke that former Senator Lincoln Chaffee had decided to run for Governor. I cautioned that the reports were too thinly sourced to count the news as definite - and it indeed looks that Chaffee has not made up his mind at all: He is now saying that he will make up his mind in May.

Last week, I noted that Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks was about to make an announcement about his plans - and that everything led to believe that he was going to jump in the gubernatorial race. That is exactly what happened, which means that Alabama will host a competitive primary between Sparks and Rep. Artur Davis. (See last week’s post for some analysis.) Interestingly, a third Democrat could soon join the party: longtime state Senator Roger Bedford, who served as the party’s unsuccessful Senate nominee in 1996, is mulling a run.

Recruitment tidbits, from Mark Parkinson to J.C. Watts

Kansas’s Governor race will be open

Earlier this year, Kansas’s Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson had declared that he would not run for the gubernatorial race in 2010, preferring to return to the private sector. But some Democrats were hoping that Parkinson would change his mind now that he is set to replace Kathleen Sebelius as the state’s Governor. That promotion would allow Parkinson to run as an incumbent in 2010 rather than seek an open seat. Yet, Parkinson ruled out such a scenario yesterday. “I’m not running for office in 2010,” he said, reiterating his previous statements.

This leaves Kansas Democrats with no obvious candidate to field in this race, while two prominent Republicans are hoping to pick-up the seat for the GOP (Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh and Senator Sam Brownback). That does not look good for Democrats, whose last hope could come from Parkinson’s choice for his Lieutenant Governor. Parkinson could give a lower-tier Democrat with statewide ambitions a bigger platform from which to wage a 2010 run.

Quinn draws his first opponent

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn looks to be more worried about a primary challenge by Attorney General Lisa Madigan than about the general election. But his first declared opponent is state Senator Bill Brady, a Republican who has served in the legislature for 16 years. Brady already has ran for Governor in 2006, when he received a decent 18% in the GOP’s primary.

Brady is a credible enough candidate to guarantee that the GOP will have someone ready to benefit if Democrats continue to undermine themselves. But he is unlikely to do more than that; Illinois remains a blue state and Brady has a conservative profile. Overall, Republicans have too weak a bench to fully take advantage of the Democrats’ trouble, and their most promising candidate - Rep. Kirk - is looking at the Senate race. (Could that be a mistake? Illinois voters should be more open to voting for a Republican in a state-level race than a federal one.)

Fiorina undergoes surgery

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who became a political figure last year as one of John McCain’s top economic advisers, has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone surgery. We wish her a speedy and full recovery. Unfortunately, even this news comes with electoral implications. Fiorina has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, but her health condition makes it much less likely she will choose to launch herself in such a physically taxing statewide run.

However, Fiorina’s chief of staff insisted nothing has been ruled out. “She is keeping all her options open,” she said. Fiorina and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the only Republicans who could mount a credible enough campaign for this race to appear on our radar screen. A survey released last month found Boxer leading Schwarzenegger by 9%; she would presumably also start with a clear lead against Fiorina, though that match-up was not polled.

Watts hints at a comeback

A few days after Rep. Mary Fallin’s entry in Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race seemed to close the door to other ambitious Republicans, The Oklahoma News reports that former Rep. J.C. Watts is looking to jump in the contest. Watts told the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce that he will make up his mind within 45 days.

Even though he has been mostly outside of the spotlight for the past seven years, Watts would be a formidable candidate. He has won a statewide race before (for Oklahoma Corporation Commission) and later served four terms in the House, from 1994 to 2002. In that time, Watts became a nationally known GOP politician. He became the Chairman of the House’s Republican caucus in 1998, and he delivered the Republicans’ official answer to Bill Clinton’s 1997 State of the Union Address. Watts’ status as one of the GOP’s most prominent minority figures made him that much more of a media-friendly figure.

All of these qualifications could make a Watts-Fallin battle unpredictable, which is a risky scenario considering that Oklahoma’s primary date is relatively late (at the end of August). Yet, the GOP should not be too worried about the risk of a bruising battle because Democrats have a competitive primary of their own: Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are both running.

Burris is going nowhere

Are Illinois Democrats trying to shoot themselves in the foot? Over and over again, party leaders have retreated after issuing very grandstanding statements. First, Democrats insisted they would strip Governor Rod Blagojevich of his appointment powers; then, thinking that Blago would never dare exercise his authority, they walked back their pledge to call for a special election. Then, the Senate leadership insisted they would do everything in their power not to seat Burris - at the very least send him in front of the Ethics Committee; instead, Burris found himself sworn in with very little investigation into his appointment.

Now, the latest flip-flop belongs to Governor Pat Quinn. A few days ago, Quinn erected himself as a leading Burris critic, boldly declaring that he would instruct the state legislature to call a special election even if Burris did not resign! Now, Quinn has changed his tune. Not only is he declaring that Burris will not resign - “He’s not going to step aside,” he said. “That’s his decision.” - but he is giving up his special election plans. “I think we need to move on from that,” he said. “I don’t there’s anything that anyone can do if he refuses to resign, now, that’s his choice.”

Sure, Quinn’s plans to call for a special election to supersede Burris’s appointment did not look that promising because of obvious question marks as to its legality. But why would Quinn take such a public stance to contradict himself within a few days? After everything that happened over the past two months, why not think through whether this latest statement is worth it? Not only does this make Quinn look politically weak, it also casts a shadow on the entire party’s commitment to cleaning up the system.

We will now have to see what state Attorney General Lisa Madigan has to say. It is on the basis of an opinion issued by her office that Quinn called for a special election a few days ago. Will Madigan take this opportunity to highlight her differences with Quinn, and potentially lay the groundwork for a primary run against the incumbent but non-elected Governor? It would be political malpractice if Quinn allows himself to be out-maneuvered on maters of ethics by the daughter of one of the state’s most prominent Democratic families.

In any case, Quinn’s change of mind proves once again Burris’s incredible resilience. Most of the state’s Democratic establishment - including Dick Durbin - has called for his resignation, but the Senator is going nowhere. Quite the contrary, he now seems to be taken steps to prepare a 2010 campaign (contrary to what was reported a few days ago). He has now created a campaign website and is asking supporters for donations. Sure, it looks unlikely that Democrats could find himself winning the Democratic nomination next year, but he will continue to give his party headaches. And if there is a very crowded field, who is to say Burris could not pull it off with a small plurality?

Also making news in Illinois Senate race is Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who clarified her 2010 plans today. “If there is a special election, I’m definitely going to run in that,” she said. She added that she had not yet decided what she would do if the election is held at its regularly scheduled date, in November 2010. The reason is clear: Schakowsky would have to give up her House seat if she were to run in November 2010, but she would have nothing to lose by running in a special election (her House seat would remain as a fallback).

Republican Rep. Kirk is in the same situation, but he has yet to even declare that he will run in a special election. This Senate race is surrounded by a lot of uncertainty - will Burris resign? will he run? when will the special election be? - that is making life difficult for potential contenders. And the state leaders’ indecision as to how to take care of the situation is making the situation even more confusing.

Illinois: Quinn hints he will seek re-election, Burris signals he will not [updated]

Update: And the plot thickens! (When does it not in Illinois?) Roland Burris’s spokesperson is denying that the Senator has made any decision about 2010. Lynn Swett tends to have great sources and strong reporting, so we will see how she reacts to Burris’s denial. Another interesting test will be Dick Durbin’s tone after his scheduled meeting with Burris.

Original post: Ever since Pat Quinn called on him to resign, Illinois Senator Roland Burris seems to have finally understood how precarious a political situation he is in. Besides organizing meeting with Democratic officials and attempting to appear more forth-coming when dealing with the press, Burris is reportedly signaling, according to Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Swett, that he will not seek re-election in 2010.

If confirmed, this would be a major relief for Democrats. Sure, it looked increasingly unlikely that Burris could win the Democratic nomination next year, but the Senator would certainly be capable to mount a decent campaign if he were to seek re-election. The DSCC was certainly certainly dreading the prospect of a heated - and potentially racially divisive - primary pitting Burris against a couple of top-tier challengers.

If Burris indeed bows out, there are two possible scenarios that could unfold:

  1. Burris is forced to resign over the next few weeks or months; if Quinn respects his pledge, that would trigger a special election and there would be another incumbent within a few months.
  2. Burris does not resign; but he retires and Illinois hosts an open Senate seat in 2010.

With is no risk of a primary featuring Burris in 2010, Democrats would have much less incentive to keep putting pressure on the Senator to quit, since a special election would be a major boost to the GOP’s pick-up prospects. The alternative would be to leave Burris alone and face Republican fire for being weak on corruption; Democrats could remedy that by sending signals that they are still investigating Burris, for instance through a long investigation in the Senate’s Ethics Committee.

Sure, Burris could be forced to quit if incriminating revelations keep pouring in, and Democrats might have no choice but to insist on his resignation. But Burris’s latest maneuver could be an attempt to survive in his post for the next two years: By promising to leave Illinois (and Democrats) alone next year, Burris might be hoping that Democrats agree to leave him alone over the next few months.

Burris’s decision should have major consequences on the Democratic field. While Burris was looking certain to face a top-tier primary challenge next year, it remained to be seen how many Democrats would jump in the race and whether any African-American candidate would do so. Burris’s reported departure means that there is nothing to hold back the state’s numerous ambitious politicians and we should expect a heated primary between the likes of Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Rep. Jan Schalowsky, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and possibly Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In fact, these potential candidates could be moved to make up their mind sooner than expected if Burris confirms his decision not to run: It takes time to prepare a statewide run in a large state like Illinois, and Democrats can start making plans now that they know they will not have to face an incumbent.

Also today, the state’s new Governor signaled that he would probably seek re-election in 2010. “I have no reason not to run,” Quinn said. Given that he has done a fairly good job distancing himself from Rod Blagojevich and from Roland Burris, there is no reason to think that Quinn will be brought down by the Blago scandal, though he faces one major obstacle: Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Madigan’s gubernatorial ambitions are a secret to no one; before the Blago scandal erupted, she was clearly planning to run either against the Governor or for an open seat. But Quinn’s promotion obviously changed the situation: Madigan would now have to face a non-disgraced incumbent. Might she not be tempted to run for the Senate seat instead?

Whether Quinn or Madigan win the gubernatorial primary, the general election should make for an easier ride: Illinois Republicans have a weak bench, and the few potential contenders they have are far more likely to run for the Senate race.

Illinois has a new Governor

It took less than two months for the Illinois state legislature to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich. What appeared like a foregone conclusion ever since the Blagojevich’s arrests took place this afternoon, as the state Senate removed him from office in a unanimous vote.

A few minutes later, senators voted to permanently bar Blagojevich from holding elected office in the state - a dramatic punishment for a man who just a few weeks ago imagined himself running for President in 2016.

And just like that, Illinois got a new chief executive: Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn was sworn in to replace Blagojevich. (The governorship remains in Democratic hands.)

Even though the allegations against Blagojevich are quite damning, it remains disturbing that he suffered such a harsh penalty without (before?) being indicted. (Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald filed a complaint document when he arrested Blagojevich, but he has yet to obtain an indictement.) Perhaps it would have been more prudent for legislators to wait for him to do so; otherwise, are we not setting a dangerous precedent and giving prosecutors a path to bring down politicians against whom they cannot obtain an indictement?

Yet, Blagojevich’s defiant attitude over the past two months did not help his cause, and he often seemed more concerned with provoking his critics than saving his career.

For one, Blagojevich’s media blitz and his sudden decision to deliver an impassioned speech to the Senate this morning rubbed legislators the wrong way given that Blagojevich refused to testify in front of the state legislature. “If he wants to come down here, instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators,” said one state Senator. And how else than as an attempt to provoke can we explain his unexpected decision to appoint Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate?

Unfortunately for Democrats who are worried that Burris’s association to the outgoing Governor could endanger this Senate seat in 2010, Blagojevich’s removal comes three weeks too late to change anything. There was a time in which Democrats hoped to delay Burris’s seating until Quinn became Governor, but the party’s leadership ultimately decided not to pursue the showdown.

We will now have to wait and see whether Blagojevich remains a major story in Illinois in 2010. If Illinois Democrats are still tainted by the scandal or if Blagojevich is put on trial in the months before Election Day, the midterms could be tough for Burris.

On the other hand, Blagojevich’s ouster has obvious consequences for the gubernatorial election. Before this scandal erupted, Quinn was not expected to seek the governor’s mansion in 2010, but other Democrats (starting with Attorney General Lisa Madigan) were eying the race.

Now that he is Governor, will Quinn run for re-election? If he does, will he be challenged in the Democratic primary?

These are important questions that will have to be answered in the months ahead. At the very least, it is unlikely Republicans will be able to mount much of a challenge in the gubernatorial election. The Illinois GOP has a thin bench; a credible Republican who is willing to run for statewide office is far more lkely to jump in the senatorial election than in the gubernatorial one.

IL Gov arrested for trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat

It’s only been a few months since the Spitzer scandal, but here we go again! In a shocking development that is bound to have major political repercussions, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was taken into custody this morning by FBI agents on corruption charges.

Blagojevich had long been surround by ethical problems that drove his approval rating to record lows. But the most stunning allegation he now faces is one that comes as a surprise to us all - an attempt to profit from the Senate vacancy created by Obama’s election by selling that seat in exchange for political and/or financial favors!

A Senate seat “is a fucking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing,” Blagojevich allegedly said in a conversation taped by the FBI.

In particular, Blagojevich is accused of pressuring Obama’s transition team for a position - HHS Secretary or an ambassadorship -  in exchange for appointing Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. (Frankly, it’s hard not to get the impression that Blagojevich was simply deranged, given his incredibly ridiculous-sounding hopes of extorting money out of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in the context of a Jarrett appointment.)

Jarrett withdrew her name from consideration in late November and tapes showing Blagojevich ranting against Obama suggest the transition team refused to entertain the Illinois Governor.

Blagojevich also allegedly tried to get concessions from a union in exchange for appointing a labor-friendly Senator. And in what could become the most explosive story of this whole sordid affair, the indictment complaint refers to a “Senate candidate 5″ who offered something “tangible up front!” - in what is further confirmation that Blagojevich was pursuing all possible avenues of profiting from his appointment. From the complaint document:

“Blagojevich said that he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided Blagojevich with something “tangible up front.” Noting that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to reach out to an intermediary (Individual D), from whom Blagojevich is attempting to obtain campaign contributions and which Blagojevich believes is close to Senate Candidate 5.”

Marc Ambinder notes that the context implies that Candidate 5 is Jesse Jackson Jr, though this remains to be determined and other hints point to State Senate President Emil Jones. (We know that Candidate 5 is not Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. We also know, from the complaint document, that Candidate 5 is someone the Obama team did not want to see appointed.)

Just as in New York, the appointment process had become rather problematic with the governor having sole discretion and seemingly more worried about what could help their own electoral prospects than anything else. In Delaware, meanwhile, Governor Ruth appointed an extremely low-profile Democrat to make sure Biden’s son can run in an open seat in 2010 - a transparent case of nepotism.

But Blagojevich’s alleged actions take these problems to an entirely different - and fairly stunning - level. And the charges surrounding Obama’s Senate seat are just the tip of the iceberg! Blagojevich faces numerous other accusations, for example of having announced an $1.8 billion plan to construct new highways in exchange for a highway contractor’s pledge to raise half-a-million dollars for his upcoming campaign.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. What seems fairly certain is that Blagojevich will be forced to step down - either through his resignation or through impeachment, as the state legislature is already staring the proceedings. That means that Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, will become Governor in the weeks or months ahead.

This is in some ways good news for Democrats, as they will finally be rid of Blagojevich and his record unpopularity and allowing them to have a better candidate - presumably Quinn, though he could face a primary - in the 2010 gubernatorial race. It is also good news for the left, as Quinn is considered far more progressive than Blagojevich - something that could also play an impact on his choice of a Senator.

That said, the Senate appointment is now a huge question mark: Blagojevich is now in jail, but he is still Governor and could at any time appoint Obama’s successor - a possibility Democrats are taking seriously. Needless to say, any Democrat appointed by Blagojevich would be tainted and face a very difficult path to re-election. The Senate might refuse to seat a Blagojevich appointee, but all of this would naturally be very embarrassing to Democrats.

If Quinn gets to make the choice, there will be a shake-up in the Senate contenders: centrist and Blagojevich-aide Tammy Duckworth’s stock would probably fall, while progressive Rep. Schakowsky would be back in the running. If he is indeed “Senate Candidate 5,” Jesse Jackson Jr. would probably also not be in too good shape. One last fascinating question: will Valerie Jarrett signal that she would like to be considered again?

Furthermore, and however glad they are to be rid of Blagojevich, Illinois Democrats could certainly take a hit from this. One important reason that they become so dominant statewide over the past decade is that the state GOP collapsed under numerous scandals - the most prominent involving Republican Governor George Ryan, who is now serving a jail sentence. Now, it is the Democrats’ turn to discredit themselves, giving the GOP an opening to paint themselves as the cleaner and more reformed state party.

That all of this is occurring in the backyard of the new President-elect is of course an additional headache for Democrats, who want to make sure that Barack Obama is in no way involved in these scandals.

That Blagjoevich appears to have repeatedly cursed at Obama in the FBI’s recordings and that he sounded angry that the new Democratic Administration was unwilling to give him a job in exchange for a Jarrett appointment should help the President-elect keep his distance from the disgraced governor.



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