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December 16, 2008

Democrats move away from Ill. special election

As Republicans have amped up their campaign for a special election to elect Barack Obama’s successor, Illinois Democrats are shying away from such a proposal.

The Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly did not take up legislation yesterday that would remove the governor’s ability to appoint a Senate successor even as it unanimously passed legislation to begin impeachment hearings. And the General Assembly has adjourned and will not reconvene until January 12.

One prominent Democratic operative in Illinois said that the odds are now against any special election taking place because of the legislature’s action on Monday.

The issue of a special election was always a tricky one for Democrats. On the same day of the governor’s arrest, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called for a special election to be held as soon as possible.

But Democrats quickly realized that an election held in the middle of the governor’s scandal could give Republicans a rare chance to pick up Obama's solidly Democratic Senate seat.

Privately, many leading Democrats were upset at Durbin’s call for a special election and quickly tried to backtrack. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid contradicted his deputy in a letter to Blagojevich, and expressed his view that the seat be filled by appointment and not by a special election.

Even Durbin changed his tune, and now remains open to the option of a gubernatorial appointment from Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.

If Blagojevich resigned or was impeached, Quinn would be tasked with naming his successor.

Republicans have begun a full-fledged PR war, with both the Republican National Committee and the state GOP calling for a special election to be held next year. The state party aired an expensive advertising blitz calling for a special election.

Editorial boards across the state have also opined for a special election to determine Obama's successor.

The state party also commissioned a poll that shows a substantial majority of Illinois voters support a special election.

The poll, conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin and Associates, shows 66 percent of Illinois voters and 64 percent of Democrats supporting a special election. Only 26 percent of voters preferred having the governor make an appointment.