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An appointment to keep

For the first time in almost 50 years, with two senators vying for the presidency, the White House race will have a domino effect that will change the face of Capitol Hill.
Janet Napolitano
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano appears on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Feb. 24, 2008. If McCain wins the presidency, Napolitano may have to name the Republican successor to his Senate seat.Karin Cooper / AP
/ Source: National Journal

Politicos in Illinois and Arizona have lots of reasons to root for Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively. One of the least frequently discussed is their entirely self-interested desire for a little career advancement. They wanna be senators, preferably without being forced to endure that pesky business of running campaigns or winning elections.

Actually, some of those discussions aren’t so infrequent. Talking to fourth-graders on Monday, Illinois’ first lady, Patti Blagojevich, pointedly refused to rule out the prospect that her husband, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), would name himself to the Senate if Obama wins the White House. (With the Illinois governor about as popular as President Bush, it wouldn’t hurt McCain to publicize Mrs. Blago’s musings).

Still, the first lady’s conversation with the nine-year-olds served as a reminder that, for the first time in almost 50 years, the White House race will have a domino effect that will change the face of Capitol Hill. The Senate is poised to lose either its only black member or a war-hero-turned-party maverick who, over the past decade, has become one of the country’s most recognized faces in politics.

Since Mrs. Blagojevich brought it up, let’s look first at Illinois, where the governor would face so many competing pressures that it’s no surprise that he might consider appointing himself.

Blagojevich, like most governors, is empowered to choose whomever he wants to fill the seat. But the good money at this point is on state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of his political nemesis, state House Speaker Michael Madigan — who, incidentally, is also rumored to be eyeing a primary challenge to the governor in 2010. If he’s trying to derail potential challengers, B-Rod also could turn to state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who lost the 2004 Democratic Senate primary to Obama.

Another woman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, has already made her interest known.

"I certainly would be interested in that," she said last month on a local television station. Schakowsky, who represents Chicago in the House, has geography on her side. Illinois likes its senators to hail from different parts of the state, and because Sen. Richard Durbin is a downstate Democrat, Obama’s successor would likely come from Chicago.

Another potential candidate: Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war vet who lost both her legs in combat and ran a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful race for Congress in 2006. Blagojevich later made her his director of veterans affairs.

Because he also could face strong pressure to maintain an African-American presence in the Senate, Blago might turn to one of the state’s powerful black politicians, such as Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. or state Senate President Emil Jones, who at 72 would likely serve as a caretaker until 2010. If President-elect Obama has any input, look for state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a key ally in Springfield, to rank atop the list.

The Arizona scenario presents even more interesting dynamics, if only because the state’s governor, Janet Napolitano, is a Democrat whose name is being floated these days as a potential Obama running mate or attorney general.

A state law requires her to replace McCain with another Republican, but unlike other states that force governors to choose from a list drawn up by the party of the departing senator, she does have some discretion. With that in mind, will she choose a “weak” Republican who would face a strong Democratic challenge in 2010? Someone like, say, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth? Or will she select a party maverick, in the spirit of McCain, who would force the GOP into a bitter and expensive primary battle two years from now? (Rep. Jeff Flake’s name comes to mind.) Or will she choose a moderate like former Rep. Jim Kolbe?

There’s also a chance that McCain will resign his Senate seat before November to burnish his image as a Washington outsider. It didn’t help Bob Dole much in 1996, but there is a strong “resign to run” tradition in Arizona that could influence McCain’s strategy.

If he were to do so, a special election would be held, bypassing Napolitano. The early Democratic front-runner for that race is Terry Goddard, the son of former Gov. Sam Goddard (D) and a former Phoenix mayor who’s now in his second term as attorney general.