Illinois Republicans are demanding a special election to fill US president-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, which the state’s scandal-plagued governor allegedly tried to sell. They are hoping to pick up a seat in Congress they had no shot at before the scandal.
Democrats are opposed to an election, saying it would cost up to US$50 million and leave the state with a Senate vacancy until at least April.
Republicans say Democrats are simply afraid of losing the election, particularly if a potential backlash arises from the criminal charges against Governor Rod Blagojevich. They claim Democrats want to hold onto the power to appoint a senator.
Obama was pulled into the dispute on Tuesday when the president-elect refused to say whether he supports a special election. The Republican National Committee said Obama “punted” rather than take a position on a vital issue.
There are no suggestions that Obama or his aides were involved in the alleged attempt to sell his seat, but the scandal has proven to be a distraction for him as he prepares to take over the presidency on Jan. 20.
The battle over Obama’s seat unfolded as a special Illinois House committee met for the first time to consider impeaching Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to auction off the seat to the highest bidder.
The committee met only briefly, postponing any real action until the governor’s attorney arrived yesterday.
Blagojevich was arrested last week at his Chicago home. Some Democrats including Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn immediately suggested that the next senator be chosen in a special election.
But Quinn now says an election would leave the seat vacant for too long. If Blagojevich were to resign or be impeached, Quinn would choose the new senator, who would be certain to be a Democrat.
The Republican National Committee has put together an Internet video on the topic that notes Obama’s connections to Blagojevich.
The video, titled Questions Remain, shows pictures of Obama with the governor, along with an array of headlines about Blagojevich’s arrest. It includes a 2006 quote from Obama saying he would be happy to help the governor’s re-election effort, if asked.
The video doesn’t mention two key facts: that prosecutors say they have no reason to think Obama did anything illegal or that federal wiretaps recorded Blagojevich saying Obama’s team was refusing to cut any deal on the Senate seat.