The Jockeying For Obama's Old Senate Seat

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The jockeying to replace Roland Burris as the next United States Senator from Illinois continues. Earlier this week, Democrats were bummed to hear that the state's attorney general, Lisa Madigan, was going to decline to run for the seat being held by Burris and that used to be held by a fellow named Barack Obama. Republicans were doubly encouraged to hear that Mark Kirk, a relatively moderate and popular Republican congressman from the state, was likely to get in the race. Now, Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post is reporting that Kirk is not going to get in the race after all. Why does this matter? Because the race for a seat vacated by a president is important. 

If Democrats can't hold on to the president's seat, it'll be deep embarrassment for the party. After all, Illinois is a reliably blue state that's gone Democratic since 1992 often by margins greater than California. For the GOP, to pick up here would be a blow to Obama. It might even be an embarrassment ont he order of the 1961 special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas that had been held by Lyndon Johnson. John Tower, a Republican who went on to be Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and whose confirmation as Defense Secretary was defeated in 1989, took the seat--the first Republican pick up of  a U.S. Senate seat in Texas since Reconstruction. It wouldn' tbe good for Obama's seat to go red either.

The seat will hold special interest for the White House because the likely Democratic candidate is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a basketball buddy of Obama's. With Kirk, dropping out the Democratic chances of holding on to the seat just got better. But the economy is still shaky. Next November is a long way away and the state is still in the throes of dealing the ouster of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the controversial appointment of Roland Burris. It's not hard to see the state sending a Republican to Washington and that would be a deep embarrassment for the president, his top political advisor David Axelrod, his chief of staff and former Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel and everyone else in the West Wing who comes from the Land of Lincoln.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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