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December 09, 2008

Special election could help GOP win Obama's seat

As my colleague Manu Raju reported, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin is calling for the Illinois state legislature to pass a law taking away the governor’s ability to appoint a successor for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

In Durbin’s scenario, a special election would be held in 2009 to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat.

And the incoming Illinois State Senate president favors the idea, and is talking about legislation to make it happen.

"Before I take office as the President, we should pass legislation changing the law to allow for special election for the replacement of Sen. Obama. And I believe that Sen. [Emil] Jones will support me in that effort," said John Cullerton, the incoming state Senate president.

While the move is being advocated by two of the state’s leading Democrats, it is concerning several Illinois-based Democratic operatives, who believe that a special election would offer a golden opportunity for Republicans to pick off the Senate seat

Their thinking goes like this: If an election was held in mid-2009, the governor’s arrest would still be fresh on voters’ minds. Democrats would likely face a crowded primary with the risk of the eventual nominee being tied to the corrupt Blagojevich administration.  And Obama's Senate seat would remain vacant for months, giving the president-elect one less Democrat in the Senate.

“With this so fresh in the minds of voters, Republicans may have a chance at this seat in a special election,” said one Democratic operative from Illinois.

Meanwhile, the risk for aspiring House Republicans – read: moderate suburban Rep. Mark Kirk – would be next-to-nil to run in an off-year special election. Kirk would not have to step down from his House seat to run for the Senate under that scenario.

If he chose to run for statewide office in 2010, he would have to give up his House seat.