ENPR: Illinois, Colorado, and New York Senate Vacancies Kick Off 2010 Race


Auto Bailout: The Republican-led rejection of the auto bailout probably doesn’t actually prevent a federal bailout of Detroit, but it does have noteworthy ramifications.

  1. Ten Senate Republicans backed the auto bailout, which means that Democratic "Nay" votes, absences, and the early resignation of President-elect Barack Obama deprived Democrats of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.
  2. Republican staff say Sen. Bob Corker‘s (R-Tenn.) compromise bailout was acceptable to many Republicans, but union officials rejected it because of wage and benefit concessions. Such a rejection reflects union confidence that a larger Democratic majority combined with a Democratic President will produce a favorable bailout.
  3. Immediately upon the Senate’s failure to move ahead on the bill, word leaked out that Bush administration would use the financial bailout passed in October for at least a patch until the 111th Congress can pass a bailout in January. This move highlights the nature of the Wall Street bailout as an open-ended bottomless slush fund for the Bush—and soon the Obama—administration to spend as it pleases.
  4. Bush’s relentless push for more bailouts, and his proclamation that he abandoned free market principles to save the free market—painting himself as some sort of reluctant new Franklin Roosevelt—heightens conservative and Republican disappointment in their outgoing president.


Colorado: Freshman Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) is reported to be Obama’s pick as interior secretary. This would create a vacancy to be filled by the appointment of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter until the expiration of Salazar’s term in 2010—giving us another round of speculation and calculation over appointment politics.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Colorado believe that the frontrunner is Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D). Hickenlooper is media savvy and likable, and his tax-and-subsidize politics make him popular with both the Left and the business community. He launched a popular microbrewery in Denver, and is a popular politician.

The central question: Would he want to be a U.S. senator? Hickenlooper easily won a second term in 2007, and term limits wouldn’t force him out of office until after the 2015 elections. He has a family with children in Denver, which also provides a friendly media for him. The slog to Washington might not appeal, especially because he would have to instantly begin running for reelection for the 2010 race.

Ritter, on the other hand, could appoint himself. He faces a potentially difficult reelection as governor in 2010 anyway, and it may behoove his political career for him flee to Washington where he would be in less of a spotlight. Alternatively, he could appoint a placeholder senator and then seek the seat himself in two years.

Another top name mentioned is House Speaker Andrew Romanov (D), a rising star within the state party—and an ambitious politician, too. Romanov would have the enthusiastic support of the Left and the labor unions, some in Colorado speculate. His major shortcoming is shared with Hickenlooper: the dislike of Denver in the rest of the state.

Rep. John Salazar (D) is the congressman mentioned the most. Republicans would be happy about that pick, giving them a chance to take back the 3rd District. The same is true of Rep. Ed Perlmutter‘s (D) district. Representatives Betsey Markey (D) and Jared Polis (D), as freshmen-elect, must be considered unlikely, considering they have yet been sworn in.

Illinois: Springfield Democrats backed down from their push towards stripping the governor of his power to appoint a U.S. senator in the light of the federal indictment charging Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) with, among other alleged crimes, trying to sell off Barack Obama’s now-vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Republicans had relished a special election as their best chance to win a difficult seat, and Democrats in the state house of representatives appear to have made the same calculation. Although the impeachment process is lurching forward and Blagojevich has expressed no interest in resigning, Democrats have shelved the idea of a special, hoping to have Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in office to make an appointment.

Of course, at any moment, Blagojevich could appoint a senator to fill Obama’s seat. No one in Illinois has even the slightest check on this power unless and until the legislature changes the law. A majority of the U.S. Senate, however, could refuse to seat him or her. The likely consequence is that until Blagojevich can be forced from office the Democrats will have one fewer seat in the Senate than they had expected.

The developments involving Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.‘s (D) role in this scandal provide more confusion than clarity. He is, in fact, "Senate Candidate 5" named in the indictment, but he says he has long been an informant on Blagojevich. In this toxic environment, though, even the slightest taint probably precludes him from ever getting the appointment.

Where does Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D), Barack Obama’s incoming chief of staff fit in here? Emanuel holds Blagojevich’s old House seat, and Emanuel and Obama continue to skirt questions about their involvement with Blagojevich.

Finally, in sorting through this mess, it’s important to remember that Blagojevich is innocent until proven guilty, and that many of the pay-to-play and corrupt-sounding items alleged in the indictment involve far more talk than action. There’s a chance the governor will be around longer than many folks assume.

Minnesota: While Minnesota officials proceed on one of the three unsettled issues in the photo-finish race between Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and comedian Al Franken (D), other issues remain up in the air.

The Minnesota canvassing board has begun the process of counting approximately 1,500 disputed ballots. These are the ballots which one of the campaigns disagreed with the interpretation by recount officials. Most challenged ballots are the ones which recounters interpreted as going to either Franken or Coleman, and the other candidate objected that the voter’s intention was unclear or the vote was illegitimate.

For this reason, it is to Franken’s advantage that Coleman has many more challenges outstanding than does Franken. These challenged ballots probably are mostly ballots that a recount official judged as going to Franken, but because of Coleman’s challenge, these votes haven’t figured into the less than 200-vote lead Coleman held at the end of the recount.

The other outstanding issues are the 133 "missing" votes, which Franken says were lost after Election Day while Coleman claims that if they don’t exist now, they can’t be counted. These missing or imaginary ballots broke in Franken’s favor.

Finally there are the "improperly rejected" absentee ballots—absentee ballots rejected originally by local election officials, who then second-guessed their decision during the recount. Courts are currently deciding the fate of these absentees.

At the moment, a Franken win looks slightly more likely than a Coleman win.

New York: The soon-to-be vacant Senate seat of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton (D) dominated headlines with the attention focused on Caroline Kennedy (D), daughter of former President John F. Kennedy (D). The press attention results from her own public statement she is interested in the seat, and the baby-boomer-dominated media’s obsession with the idea of Camelot, not from any new revelations about the thinking of Gov. David Paterson (D).

Patterson has stated his intention to announce a replacement only when the seat is vacant. Clinton has said her plan is to stay in her Senate seat until she is confirmed, and so Paterson has at least a month to make up his mind.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter King (R), one of New York’s three remaining Republican congressmen—down from 14 in 1995—has suggested he might run for the seat in the 2010 special election. Democrats just seized control of the state senate in Albany, making it likely that they will control the entire redistricting process after the 2010 Census. King is likely to see his district carved up by the 2012 election, and so changing seats to try for higher office in 2010 would actually be a low-risk undertaking.


Virginia-5: The U.S. House races for 2008 finally came to a conclusion today with the completion of the recount in Virginia’s 5th District. Rep. Virgil Goode (R) had demanded the recount, despite losing by a hefty 745 votes. The recount yielded basically no change in the lead of attorney Tom Periello (D).

As of press time, Goode had not yet conceded, but barring some sort of lawsuit, this straggling House contest finally comes to a close.