Obama’s Success: A Dilemma for Governor?

Posted February 7, 2007 at 6:32pm

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is set to launch his presidential campaign Saturday, exciting not just his supporters but the eager politicians who might fantasize about succeeding him in the Senate if he wins.

But in contrast to 2004, when Massachusetts Congressmen publicly lined up to replace Sen. John Kerry in the Senate after he became the Democratic presidential nominee, — wishful thinking that was dashed after Kerry lost the general election — Illinois Democrats seem content to wait to make their ambitions known.

Obama was first elected to the Senate in 2004. Should he win the presidency or vice presidency in 2008, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) would appoint someone to fill the remainder of his term, which does not expire until January 2011.

Any appointee to the Senate presumably would seek a full term in 2010, unless Blagojevich names a caretaker, throwing the nomination fight wide open.

Given the long stretch of time between now and then, “No one is looking at this,” said one aide to an Illinois Democratic Member of Congress, who did not want to be named.

“Being in the majority takes some of the focus off” of looking into the crystal ball, the aide added.

While House members may not be publicly jockeying for position yet, some statewide officials back in the Prairie State certainly are, according to political observers.

“There is a long list of people who have good credentials and have good experience and are young and enthusiastic who would love to fill the seat,” said Kitty Kurth of Kurth Lampe, a Democratic consulting firm based in Chicago. “It would be a knock down, drag out fight.”

Two names at the top of most insiders’ lists are Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Comptroller Dan Hynes.

Both come from well-known political families and both have higher ambitions, Kurth said.

Madigan is the daughter of state House Speaker Michael Madigan — who also is chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party — while Hynes’ father was a longtime elected official in the Windy City and has close ties to the fabled Chicago Democratic machine.

Hynes was the runner-up to Obama in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary and has been a major cheerleader of his presidential explorations in recent weeks.

While Blagojevich spent six years representing Chicago’s northside in the House, he reportedly is not very close to any of his former colleagues.

Blagojevich is affable and got along well with delegation members, but tensions grew once he decamped to Springfield, according to knowledgeable Democrats in Washington, D.C., and Illinois.

That leaves him with no “best buddy” to reward in Washington or Illinois, Kurth said.

“If Barack is doing really well [next year], I would think that our governor would get a lot more appreciation and cooperation from our statewide officials that he has not always enjoyed,” Kurth said.

One factor that likely would weigh heavily in Blagojevich’s decision is race.

Obama is the only black Member of the Senate. There likely would be tremendous pressure on Blagojevich to replace Obama with a black politician, especially if no other minority is elected to the Senate on Election Day next year.

“That will be huge,” said Kurth, who ran the the unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign of former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), the only black woman to have served in the Senate.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) would be a top contender for an appointment, Kurth said.

For now neither Jackson nor any of his colleagues in the delegation are looking that far ahead.

“Congressman Jackson is focused now only on helping Sen. Obama become the next president of the United States,” Jackson spokesman Ken Edmonds said. “Discussing what happens after that is purely hypothetical and entirely premature.”

Illinois Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Rahm Emanuel, who replaced Blagojevich in Congress, also could be interested.

Gutierrez, like Jackson, took a close look at running for mayor of Chicago this year, but decided against it after the Democrats won control of Congress.

Emanuel has been mentioned as someone who aspires to be Speaker of the House, a Senator, governor of Illinois or mayor of Chicago.

A spokeswoman for Emanuel declined to comment about what the future holds for the Democratic Caucus chairman.

Of course no rumination about Illinois politics would be complete without mention of a Daley.

Longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) has been mentioned as a possible “caretaker” appointment, but a source close to the mayor dismissed such a notion.

“I don’t think Daley would be interested,” the source said. “He’s not a one out of 100 type.”

Clinton administration Commerce Secretary William Daley, the mayor’s brother, also has been mentioned as a possible Senate appointee, but the source doubts Daley, who is expected to serve the Obama campaign in some capacity, has any interest in returning to Washington, D.C.