So What Really Happens to Obama's Seat Now?

As events moved at triphammer pace following the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this week, so did the odds that the successor to Barack Obama in the Senate will be decided by a special election next year rather than appointment by the embattled Democratic governor.

Within hours of the spectacular arrest of Blagojevich and the release of the 76-page indictment for allegedly trying to “sell” the president-elect’s open Senate seat, Democratic leaders in the state legislature moved rapidly to reconvene their colleagues and change state law.  Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Mike Madigan, Democrats both, told reporters that they would urge lawmakers to pass legislation to remove the governor’s power to fill Senate vacancies and instead mandate an immediate special election for open Senate seats.  Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) also weighted in strongly on behalf of the measure, telling reporters “[n]o appointment by this governor could be a credible replacement.”

Pundits and pols privately expect that were Blagojevich to veto the measure changing the way Senate vacancies are filled, his veto would be overridden by two thirds of the state legislature.  As for whether Blagojevich would try to name someone before the measure passed, a lawsuit has been filed to enjoin him from doing so.  In addition, with the Senate having the last word over seating of its Members, it is widely thought that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Democratic Whip Durbin would urge that no appointee by Blagojevich be seated.

 A special election would likely be held sometime early next year — and, under these circumstances, the moribund Prairie State Republicans may  have a chance.  Virtually every big Democratic name in the state — ranging from former Commerce Secretary William Daley (brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley) to State Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of Mike) — is mentioned for nomination, which would ensure a competitive and possibly divisive primary.

Republicans hold no statewide offices and have not won a Senate seat since 1998, when conservative Peter Fitzgerald was elected (he stepped down after one term and was succeeded by Obama).  Now in investment banking in the Washington DC area, Fitzgerald has been mentioned as a “comeback kid” for a special election.  Any of the state’s Republican House Members would get a “free ride” to run in ’09 and the two most often mentioned for the race are conservative Pete Roskam and moderate Mark Kirk — both of whom survived stiff Democratic challenges this year.

One of the most poignant post-mortems on the race was shared with me by veteran Chicago GOP consultant Bill Pascoe:  “When they handed down the 76-page indictment against Blagojevich, the U.S. Attorney should have added a 77th page citing medical malpractice.  When the governor told reporters he didn’t mind being taped saying anything, it was clear he had performed a self-lobotomy.”