Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama Resigns His Senate Seat - Now What?

There is pretty much universal agreement that Rod Blagojevich has been a train wreck as governor of Illinois. Six years ago, he sold himself to his constituents as a progressive, a reformer and a "doer." When his agenda got bogged down in some partisan bickering, he STILL won re-election, although many of us who voted for him, did so while holding our collective noses. And it turned out that we should have trusted our noses. He has proven to be a magnet for corruption, and despite a legislature literally brimming with fellow democrats, he has been a total failure at getting anything substantive done with regards to ongoing budgetary timebombs. He is universally despised. However, he IS the sitting governor of the home state of the president-elect. Said p/e has filed his resignation paperwork with the appropriate senatorial office, and so Illinois will be light one senator come Sunday.

So what will our beloved Blago do? Let's dispatch with one possibility right away: He will NOT name himself to fill the remainder of Obama's term - and believe me I am sure that it has crossed his mind. There isn't much question that going to Washington would allow him to be extricated from the quagmire he's created in state government. It must be equally obvious that he would have to face a group of cannibals in a 2010 democratic primary fight. That said, he could NEVER get re-elected, and should he get indicted while a sitting senator (a real possibility given an ongoing federal corruption investigation), he'd turn himself into a national joke along the lines of Ted Stevens.

Nope, Blago needs to go to the bench and name someone else. In my mind there are three groups of contenders, those who would be there to keep the seat warm for two years, those who really want the job, and those who I think might be rolling around in Blago's mind. Here are those I see as being on those short lists:

Seat Warmers
Emil Jones - President of the Illinois Senate. Pros: At 73 years old, he would have no designs on staying on past 2010. As an African American, he would "fill" the Af-Am slot that so many pundits think is SOOOOO important. Oh, and was Barack Obama's political mentor.
Cons: He has a heart condition, and while he is a grizzled veteran legislator, he has absolutely NO national experience.
Jesse White - Illinois Secretary of State. Pros: Another aging Af-Am politician, who would have no designs on holding the seat past 2010. He is undeniably popular statewide. He is acknowledged as a stand-up guy. Cons: None, except for the lack of any substantive legislative experience and the fact that he has publicly stated that he has no interest in the job.

Wanna Bes
Tammy Duckworth - Director of Illinois Department of Veteran's Affairs. Pros - Amazing backstory - multiple amputee veteran of the Iraq Debacle. Gained scads of positive national exposure during her unlikely (and nearly successful) run at Henry Hyde's vacated congressional seat in 2006 (she lost by fewer than 2% in a + GOP district). Cons - She has very little governmental experience, and she hasn't ever won so much as a local elected office. She would be in for a well-funded challenge by the GOP in 2010.

Jesse Jackson Jr. - Sitting Congressman. Pros - A veteran national legislator who would hit the ground running. He knows politics, Dick Durbin could be a huge help to get him onto high profile committees - Normally, I'd say that being an African American would be a "pro" but he carries his father's name, and while his positives in the minority community and the south suburbs are very very high (he is a main proponent of the moribund effort to bring an international airport to Peotone's cornfields) the negatives attached TO HIS FATHER in the mostly white suburbs and downstate would assure a credible GOP challenge in 2010. I really don't like his chances to win a statewide election. His future may be as a challenger to "Da Mayor."

Dan Seals - Two-time (2006, 2008) loser to Mark Kirk in IL-10. Pros - He is Af-Am, and his agenda matches Obama's. Cons - He has ZERO name recognition outside of the Chicago metro area and hasn't ever won an election. While he has run well in a +GOP congressional district, that district is far more socially liberal than downstate. This makes a credible GOP run at him in 2010 a certainty.

Luis Gutierrez - Sitting Congressman (IL-4). Pros - Another veteran legislator who knows his way around Washington. As the only Hispanic in the conversation, he might be a formidible opponent for anyone the GOP throws at him in 2010. Cons - He is all-but-unknown downstate, and he hasn't exactly been much more than a reliable vote in the US Congress, despite having served there for multiple terms. His history as a fire-brand liberal might cause the GOP to see him as vulnerable to a challenge from a strong moderate candidate.

Jan Schakowsky - Sitting Congresswoman (IL-9). Pros - Steady, progressive and (like Jackson and Gutierrez) a veteran presence on Capitol Hill. She can draw on her close relationship with Dick Durbin to get on some plumb committees. She'd be tough for the GOP to attack in 2010. Cons - Another Chicago area politician with little-to-no name recognition outside the Chicago TV market.

Dark, Dark Horses
Bill Foster - Sitting Congressman (IL-14). Pros - Beat a well-funded GOP candidate TWICE in less than a year in a +GOP district. Seen by voters in his district as a moderate with a brilliant mind (FermiLab scientist), and a business background. Received the endorsement of the conservative Chicago Tribune. Cons - Would probably cause the democrats to lose a house seat in a special election for the IL 14 seat. Hard to say if he could generate lots of heat in 2010.

Lisa Madigan - Illinois Attorney General. Pros - She has high positives statewide, and if she went into 2010 as a sitting senator I see no credible GOP presence in the state to oppose her. Her father has the testes of an entire house of the state legislature in a jar by the door of his office. They would make sure to deliver her a decisive victory. Cons - If she is a sitting US Senator, then she probably won't run for governor in 2010 -and this is almost a sure thing if she isn't tabbed for this gig.

My money is on Madigan, especially if Blago has deluded himself into believing that he's still viable to run for re-election in 2010.


schmidlap said...

Do we know just how progressive Duckworth is? I have to think that they ran her out there in Wingnutland because she's a corporatist milquetoast like Melissa Bean. Am I wrong?

Rousing Rabble said...

I think they ran her out there because of her backstory - the anti-war sentiment was palpable in '06 -- much more than in this cycle. Her campaign was pretty run-of-the-mill dem though...

Anonymous said...

You stated CONS for Jesse White were-->Cons: None, except for the lack of any substantive legislative experience and the fact that he has publicly stated that he has no interest in the job.
What about the 16 years he spent in the State House as a State Rep?

Rousing Rabble said...

First off, thinks for your comment, and welcome to the blog... As for your point, you are right about Jesse's years in the legislature, but that experience was a long long time ago. And as for the adjective "substantive," I guess that I was thinking along the lines of what kind of legislative imprint did he make (aside from his push for organ donation as SoS)? I could have done a better job of stating this in the original post, but my main point was that White wouls serve as a "seat-warmer."

Carlos said...

Considering that Blago is the one who appoints, he might want Madigan to take the post, but she might not bite. I believe she's positioning herself to run for governor, whether or not Blago goes for an ill-advised 3rd term.

I lean toward Jesse Jr. He's capable, he's got name recognition, he can run a credible statewide campaign, and he'll keep the seat with an African American. He can overcome whatever his father's negatives may be with the voters. He's already ripped his dad on statements about Obama. The voters will see him as a new generation pol, like Obama, and they haven't gone for Republican association games anyway.

Longshots: Tammy Duckworth, Dan Seals

Machiavellian choice: Blago

From the other side of town said...

Dick Durbin holds the “downstate” Senatorial seat, so choosing a Chicago area poll would be apropos. The key to the choice is someone who can win in 2 years.

Neither White or Jones is young enough to hold the seat.

Seals hasn’t won a contest and Duckworth’s lack of presence/experience would work against them in 2 years.

Gutierrez is too liberal (especially on immigration) and would be out of a job in 2 years, so I think he’ll sit tight.

Foster would be a practical pick but it would open up his current seat for the annual Jim Oberweis campaign, and this time he might win.

Madigan will be the next Governor, she’s popular enough and the Regular Dems want to prove they can win with someone that’ll play ball.

Jesse, Jr. is popular in his district but his family name would be the rock that would pull him under. And contrary to some beliefs he isn’t that beloved, just Af-Am.

Jan Schakowsky has the name recognition and popularity to not have to compromise too much to get the Regular Dems behind her. But the RD’s don’t work for free, and she’d have to come around on a few things in order for the foot soldiers to go out and pound the pavement. She’s the most capable of winning again in 2 years, and that is really why she’s the most attractive choice.

Rousing Rabble said...

Thanks for your take. You seem to track with my thoughts for the most part, and I should point out that the "con" regarding being from Chicago is aimed more at name-recognition for the 2010 election, than it is for the notion that there is a "Chicago" seat and a "downstate" seat. Right now the state is VERY top-heavy with chicago-area dems in key state leadership positions. I think that it's short-sighted, as the downstate delegation has to feel somewhat slighted. Foster, as an ex-burbs kind of guy, might bring more to the "down-state table" than Schakowsky. However, I think that there is a HUGE pressure being exerted on Blago to name a "seat-warmer."