Daily Herald
Who'll replace Obama in Senate? Blagojevich controls the pick
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/5/2008 4:40 PM

Even before Tuesday's results had rolled in, Barack Obama's candidacy for the White House had touched off widespread speculation over who could be named to replace him in the U.S. Senate.

Officially, the power to pick the replacement senator rests solely with Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And if the last six years have taught Illinoisans anything it should be that it's hard to predict what this governor will do.

Blagojevich announced Wednesday a search committee to interview potential Obama replacements in the Senate.

"Because it's important that the best person for Illinois is selected, I want to be clear that the calendar won't dictate our search. Instead, I want to ensure that Obama's successor will understand and fight for the needs of average Illinoisans," the governor said in a news release.

Technically, a replacement cannot be named until a vacancy officially exists. Obama does not become president until he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. Until then he's still a U.S. senator.

That said, it's unlikely he'll remain in that office long. After winning the U.S. Senate seat in 2004, Obama quickly stepped aside from his Illinois Senate seat and his replacement - Democrat Kwame Raoul - was sworn in just four days after Obama's election.

Meanwhile, talk of whom Blagojevich would pick is a favorite water cooler and political blog topic.

There are those in some political circles who believe the replacement, like Obama, should be black. Obama is only the fifth black senator in U.S. history. Others say race is irrelevant.

Some political observers theorize Blagojevich may want to neutralize a possible 2010 challenger by naming a rival to the post and forcing the person to decide between a run for governor or the U.S. Senate in two years.

And there's nothing to stop the governor from appointing himself, though he appeared to rule that out.

"I think I've made it pretty clear, I have no intention of talking to myself about this," Blagojevich said during an election night appearance on ABC 7.

Something else to keep in mind: should the governor turn to a statewide official, such as the attorney general or comptroller, he then also gets to pick that replacement.

Here's a political rundown of the people frequently mentioned as possible fill-in senators.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General: The Illinois political world waits to see if she'll run for governor in 2010. A Senate appointment, which some colleagues think she'd accept, would remove one of the governor's most powerful critics and dangerous rivals.

Dan Hynes, Illinois Comptroller: Sought this very seat in 2004 only to be bested by Obama in the primary. Also said to be considering a 2010 bid for governor and has been increasingly critical of Blagojevich.

Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois Treasurer: Close ties to Obama and a possible 2010 governor contender.

Emil Jones Jr., Illinois Senate President: Jones is Obama's political godfather and is leaving the state Senate at the end of the year. Jones is African-American and has been Blagojevich's constant ally.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky: She's been openly campaigning for the appointment, but naming her could rile key Democratic officials and constituencies.

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel: Former Clinton White House aide influential in getting Democratic control of Congress, unlikely to want to give up his growing clout in the U.S. House though has reportedly been approached about serving as chief of staff.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.: Would bring much support in Chicago's vote-heavy black wards. The Chicago Defender recently touted Jackson for the post. Unproven statewide.

Tammy Duckworth, state's Veterans Affairs director: Obama gave her a key convention platform, but the Iraq war vet could be more valuable in his administration than the Senate.

Cheryle Jackson, president Chicago Urban League: An African-American woman who previously served as Blagojevich's communications director but is essentially unknown to most voters.