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Who will fill Obama’s Senate seat?

The Illinois governor has promised to name someone before the end of the year.

By Staff writer / November 25, 2008

Possible picks: Speculation has included (clockwise from left) US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago; Tammy Duckworth, who heads Illinois’s Veterans Affairs Department; Illinois Senate President Emil Jones; Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston; and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

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Chicago

Most of America is watching President-elect Obama shape his cabinet, but in Illinois, the political junkies are riveted by a guessing game closer to home: Who will be tapped to fill Mr. Obama’s seat in the US Senate?

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A similar question has already been settled in Delaware: Edward Kaufman, a longtime aide to Sen. Joseph Biden, will take his Senate seat after Mr. Biden assumes the vice presidency. But speculation about the Illinois pick has run rampant. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has promised to name someone before the end of the year. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Sen. Biden's state.]

Opinions differ sharply on key questions: Does the replacement need to be an African-American to ensure that the Senate will continue to have at least one black member? Should it be a “placeholder” who doesn’t plan to run in 2010, or someone who has a good shot at winning a statewide election in two years? Will Governor Blagojevich seek to help his own dim chances at reelection by naming one of his political rivals?

With the governor’s approval rating currently hovering at about 13 percent, the decision gives him a rare chance for a positive moment in the spotlight. But some observers caution that any choice he makes is likely to make numerous groups unhappy.

“In normal times, [Blagojevich] would pick somebody who can help him in a 2010 primary, but there isn’t anyone out there who can help him with what he needs,” says Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago. “It’s a multiple-choice test with no right answer.... If he resurrected Mother Teresa, they’d say it’s a bad choice because she lacks experience.” Anyone he picks, adds Professor Green, will be compared with his predecessor, and “whomever he picks will not be Obama.”

There is no shortage of candidates.

Speculation, so far, has centered on two African-American Chicago congressmen, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis; Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, who is nearing retirement and maybe wouldn’t run for reelection in 2010; Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston; Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago; and two potential challengers to Blagojevich in 2010, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

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