Embattled Sen. Roland Burris may have relieved Illinois Democrats of their biggest political headache and reduced Republican chances of capturing a valuable Senate seat next year by announcing Friday he won't run for a full term. Still, his withdrawal sets the stage for a major clash of political forces in 2010.
Democrats no longer have to worry about a messy primary battle focused on Burris accepting his seat from former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now removed from office and facing multiple corruption charges. And Republicans won't have a chance to run against the tainted appointee.
Even so, Republicans who run are sure to campaign against the scandals surrounding Blagojevich in this Democrat-controlled state. Democrats must sort through a wide-open field that could include anyone from a protege and basketball pal of President Barack Obama to a son of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
Black leaders also may fight hard to hang on to a seat held in recent years by three black senators: Burris, President Barack Obama and Carol Moseley Braun. Burris is currently the Senate's only black member.
Burris' announcement that he was dropping out came just seven months after he was named Obama's replacement. It was an admission that Burris' image had taken such a pounding from his association with Blagojevich and that it would take too much campaign money and time to turn things around, if it could be done at all.
"I was called to choose between spending my time raising funds, or spending my time raising issues for my state. I believe that the business of the people of the state of Illinois should always come first," said Burris, 71.
Burris, who bemoaned the high cost of running a political campaign, has had lackluster fundraising, raising only $845 during the first three months of 2009. He delivered the news that he was bowing out in a brief speech at a South Side hotel to a crowd of about 50 supporters, who applauded and chanted "Don't Do it" and "Run, Roland, Run!"
"I feel as if the people of Illinois have lost the most experienced and most qualified person to represent them in the United States Senate based on finances, based on a simple matter of campaign fundraising," said Melvin Sims, a Chicago attorney.
Burris greeted supporters after his speech but left without taking questions, which has been typical during his tenure in office.
His decision is the second major development in the closely watched Senate race this week. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who would have been a likely leader in the Democratic primary, opted out of the race on Wednesday.
But with Madigan and Burris out, the field is full of potential front-runners.
Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias plans to seek the Democratic nomination. His friendship with Obama may help, but the White House had been recruiting Madigan to run.
Christopher Kennedy, who runs Chicago's Merchandise Mart, is another potential candidate.
Cheryle Jackson, president of the Chicago Urban League and former Blagojevich spokeswoman, is exploring a bid. Jackson, who is black, could benefit from any pressure to keep a black senator in the seat.
Illinois state Rep. Arthur Turner said while some of that pressure will exist, race won't be an absolute requirement.
"They're not going to throw down the gauntlet if a black is not slated for that position," said Turner, a black representative from Chicago.
Potential GOP candidates
On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Kirk is considering running, as is Andrew McKenna, chairman of the Illinois GOP.
Speculation about Kirk's intentions in particular have run rampant for weeks, but spokesman Eric Elk said Friday that there was no timeline for an announcement from the representative in his fifth term serving Illinois' 10th district in Chicago's northern suburbs.
Burris' decision to bow out caps a long political career that included stints as Illinois' comptroller and attorney general.
Blagojevich appointed Burris in December, just weeks after the then-governor was arrested on charges of trying to sell the seat.
Burris has maintained he did nothing improper to get his Senate appointment, but it triggered waves of criticism, opposition from fellow Democrats, court battles and even a perjury investigation, which did not produce any charges. Democratic leaders initially vowed not to seat him, but eventually relented. Burris still faces a Senate ethics probe.
He never received backing from top Illinois politicians, including fellow Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who has said repeatedly he would not support Burris for a full term.
Burris seemed to acknowledge the travails of the last seven months in his announcement.
"Serving in public life is not easy, " he said, "but it is a noble and rewarding calling."