Tomorrow night, we’re going to have a president-elect. That means, of course, that he will vacate his seat in the U.S. Senate. There’s been remarkably little mainstream media coverage of this—everyone’s attention has been focused on more immediate matters—but Obama has no heir apparent for that seat, and it’s an open question who’s going to replace him.

Some states hold special elections, but here in Illinois, Senate vacancies are filled by the governor. That governor is Rod Blagojevich, and yes, he’s a Democrat… but not one who’s on particularly good terms with anyone. His current public approval rating is a whopping 13%. He’s estranged from his own father-in-law and former political mentor, Dick Mell. He hasn’t spoken in months to his own Lieutenant Governor, Pat Quinn. He can’t manage to get along with the Democratic leadership in the Illinois State House (especially majority leader Mike Madigan) even on trivial matters. Oh, and he’s under investigation for corruption. Basically, his administration defines the term “epic fail.”

So who he might appoint to the office is, to put it mildly, anybody’s guess.

Despite his phenomenal unpopularity, Blago has aspirations to re-election or higher office himself, so that might influence the decision. He could even appoint himself; it’s not illegal. That would certainly result in a free-for-all in the 2010 primaries, but he’ll be facing that for the governorship anyway, and might figure he’d have better odds as a Senator than as Governor. Then again, he might appoint Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ Attorney General for the last eight years (and daughter of Mike Madigan). She’s been a decent if unspectacular AG, and is an odds-on favorite to take on Blago for the gubernatorial nomination in 2010; if she’s in the Senate instead, that takes her off the table.

Are there more likely possibilities? The Hill, a favorite gossip sheet of political junkies, reports on several. Among the likelier are Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL-2), and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) (my own representative), both of whose Chicago-area districts overlap parts of what was once Obama’s state senate district. Both reportedly want the upgrade. Jackson has the advantage that he would step into Obama’s shoes as the only black member of the U.S. Senate. However, he’s not always the friendliest public servant around, and his personality just adds to questions about how well he would poll downstate when the time comes to run for re-election; not only is he markedly more liberal than downstate voters, but he might not be able to surmount all the racial hurdles that Obama so easily cleared. Schakowsky, while no less liberal than Jackson, might have an easier time of it; she’s better liked, and (even setting aside race) arguably has fewer “negatives.”

Another name bandied about is Rep. Rahm Emanuel (IL-5). More of a DLC-style centrist, he might play better downstate; on the other hand, he’s more brusque and abrasive than Jackson by an order of magnitude, personality-wise, which could work against him. At any rate, he’s already the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House, and reportedly enjoys being a power broker and has ambitions to rise to the Speakership, so he’s unlikely to accept the “promotion” to a junior position in the Senate. (That ambition might also—IMHO thankfully—interfere with the rumored possibility of making him Obama’s Chief of Staff… if that was ever serious in the first place, as opposed to just a feint to mollify Jewish voters concerned about the Khalidi smear).

Another interesting contender is Valerie Jarrett, a local CEO and one of Obama’s earliest supporters and closest advisers. She’s not only black but female, and while she’s never held elected office, she’s an old hand in Chicago politics.

There are yet more dark-horse names in the mix. Perhaps Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), who is not black but Hispanic, and one of Blago’s relatively few remaining allies? Perhaps Emil Jones, Obama’s mentor in the Illinois Senate, who just retired as president of that body? Perhaps Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who narrowly lost a 2006 attempt to win Henry Hyde’s former House seat, and who is reportedly not only a Blago ally but also close to Illinois’ senior Senator Dick Durbin? It could be any of these, or someone else again.

And of course most of the possibilities produce ripple effects, depending on who might be available to fill (e.g.) a newly opened House seat. The political calculus is labyrinthine. At last report, Blago might even dodge the responsibility by bringing in a committee. All we can do right now is speculate, until he makes up his mind. And no one knows when that will be. State law doesn’t impose any specific deadline, although presumably he’d want to get someone appointed and sworn in ahead of the rest of the looming Senate freshman class, to give him/her at least a slight edge in seniority.

Out in Delaware, by way of contrast, things are much simpler. It’s still a matter of gubernatorial appointment, but Biden has an heir apparent for his 36-year-old seat:  his son Beau, who is currently the state’s Attorney General. He’s off to Iraq at the moment, but that’s not necessarily an obstacle; if he’s not appointed directly, whoever is will almost certainly be just a “placeholder” Senator, keeping the seat warm for him.

(Shall we discuss who Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano might have to appoint if McCain wins? Nah. No point bothering with hypotheticals that outrageously unlikely.)

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One Response to “When Obama succeeds, who succeeds Obama?”
  1. topcat says:

    Wow a great article, very focused, wewll written and thought provoking – well said

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