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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.

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The state’s senior US senator, Richard Durbin (D), meanwhile, has supported Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who ran an unsuccessful congressional bid four years ago and who heads Illinois’s Veterans Affairs Department.

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Representative Jackson has made it clear he’d like the job, commissioning and circulating a Zogby poll that revealed him as the favorite among 10 possible candidates and that showed him having a good chance at being reelected in two years.

Blagojevich has so far played his hand closely, saying only that he hopes to choose a successor by Christmas and that he is uninterested in naming himself Illinois’s next senator.

But many observers expect him to pick an African-American replacement, in part because what little base the governor has left is largely centered in Illinois’s African-American community.

“Those are the most dependable Democratic voters, where his best performance is,” says Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

Speculation that the governor could try to help himself by removing a potential primary rival, such as Attorney General Madigan, is interesting, says Professor Redfield. But in the end, “he only has one appointment and way too many people who want to run against him.”

Others suggest he might opt not to give any candidate a leg up in the 2010 race and thus go with a relatively safe “placeholder” choice, like state Senator Jones, also an African-American and a politician with whom Blagojevich has a close relationship. But some also note that the governor has a reputation for liking to surprise pundits and to make a splash.

“He owes the most to Emil Jones,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman. “He’s the most likely, but no one is likely with Blagojevich.”

An African-American is the most likely pick, Professor Simpson agrees. He hopes the governor will tap someone who, like Jackson, has more national experience and may be able to do more for the state.

One wild-card option: US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor behind many of the corruption investigations into the Blagojevich administration. That choice not only could prove to be popular with the public, but would also remove a big thorn from the governor’s side.

Mr. Fitzgerald “would make a lot of people feel really happy,” says Green.