Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Even before today's events, the 2010 Illinois governor's race was already one of the most intriguing and uncertain in the country. That's still true, even though the dynamics of the election are changing before our eyes.
Before today, the first question was whether Blagojevich would run again. Even with Blagojevich's approval rating struggling to crack double digits (one poll in October found that only 4% of Illinois voters rated his performance as "excellent" or "good"), his decision had the potential to set the tone of the race and influence which candidates decided to run.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan generally was regarded as the leading Democratic opponent to Blagojevich. Besides holding statewide office, Madigan also comes from an influential political family. Her father is the speaker of the state House of Representatives. And Speaker Michael Madigan just so happens to be Blagojevich's biggest foe.
So, Lisa Madigan had the motive to pursue a primary against Blagojevich and the means to win. But there were other noteworthy Democrats who were possibilities, perhaps including State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley (the Chicago mayor's brother). All of these people weren't going to run in a primary against Blagojevich, but it seemed certain that at least one would run.
Now, with a Blagojevich reelection bid less likely (to say the least), the new question is whether Pat Quinn will be governor and, if so, whether he'll be running for reelection. If the race is an open seat, Quinn seems like a pretty unlikely candidate for the job.
The lieutenant governor is elected on a ticket with the governor in Illinois. Quinn spent years defending Blagojevich, before turning against him. He'd have a hard time shaking his ties to Blagojevich, without the advantage of incumbency. Madigan and Daley are both clearly strong candidates. Giannoulias, only 32, has an interesting profile as a friend and basketball buddy of Obama.
But, with the advantage of incumbency, Quinn's prospects would change dramatically. He would get to establish a reputation based on what he did as governor. If he thrived, other Democrats might look like poor team players if they challenged him.
At this point, Blagojevich appears pretty likely to be impeached and kicked out of office. Even if that doesn't happen (or before it happens), Blagojevich could resign, handing Quinn the governorship.
That would have the effect of hurting Lisa Madigan's chances of becoming governor, i.e. hurting the chances of Blagojevich's archrival becoming governor -- although I'm sure Gov. Blagojevich would never, ever, think about his decision in such cynical terms.
The Republicans have a very weak bench in Illinois. They hold no statewide offices. Most likely, even with this scandal hanging over the party, the Democratic nominee will be favored for the governorship in 2010.
So, the irony here is quite strong. Blagojevich may soon loose control over who is Illinois' next senator, but he may soon gain control over who is elected governor in 2010. If he leaves office quickly, he'll be helping Quinn. If he stays and fights, he'll be helping everyone else.
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