Up for Grabs, the Coolest Seat in the Senate

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Contenders or pretenders, the list of potential candidates for President-elect Barack Obama's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat stretches from Chicago to Springfield and back again.

All are Democrats. All would love the chance to follow Obama as the junior senator from Illinois in a state where Republicans have a long losing streak in major statewide contests. The appointment lasts the final two years of Obama's term.

Among them are at least two members of Congress and Obama campaign co-chairs: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the South Side son of a famous political father, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an early Obama supporter from progressive Evanston.

Other names mentioned in Illinois political circles are Obama family confidante Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman; state Senate President Emil Jones Jr., an Obama mentor in the mid-1990s; and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a rising star and likely candidate for governor in 2010.

Tammy Duckworth, the Illinois director of veterans affairs, is high on everyone's list.

An Iraq war veteran who lost most of both legs after her helicopter was shot down, Duckworth was recruited for a losing 2006 House race by Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the prospective White House chief of staff. Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, guided her campaign and is a fan.

The decision lies with Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose political decisions are famously unpredictable. He told reporters yesterday that he is unlikely to choose himself, although that is permissible.

"The search begins today," Blagojevich said in announcing that a new committee would consider potential picks. He said he aims to make a decision by Jan. 1.

Day of Reckoning

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is about to learn the price of his open support for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his stark criticism of Obama during the campaign.

Lieberman is scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) by the end of this week to discuss his future as an independent who caucuses with Democrats, aides said. It will be a face-to-face sit-down, but the precise timing and location are still undisclosed, perhaps out of senatorial deference to Lieberman.

Reid, who said publicly for most of the spring and summer that it was fine for Lieberman to endorse McCain, became angry with his colleague when he delivered a blistering speech at the Republican National Convention that included criticism of Obama's readiness to be president.

One possible penalty would be to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which many Democrats would support but some would consider light punishment. Another option is to expel him from the caucus by stripping him of all committee assignments, a move that would force Lieberman to caucus with Republicans if he wants to take part in committee deliberations.

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