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Can Burris win in 2010?

Friday, Jan 9, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My Sun-Times column today is a deliberately contrarian viewpoint that may not go over well with some people. So be it

There’s been a lot of talk lately that Roland Burris can’t possibly win a full term if he’s seated in the United States Senate.
I’m not 100 percent convinced, so please allow me a few contrarian thoughts.

The appointment of Burris by arrested, embattled and soon-to-be impeached Gov. Blagojevich has caused an intense racial firestorm in our state and our nation. The situation is almost approaching O.J. Simpson levels, and it’s intensifying with every passing day.

A statewide poll taken this week by the Glengariff Group illustrates the racial divide. African-American voters in Illinois support the Burris appointment by a 67 percent to 21 percent. White voters opposition to the appointment is a similarly lopsided 58 percent to 26 percent.

Illinois Democrats are divided. But a plurality, 46 percent, favors the appointment while 41.5 percent oppose it, the poll found.

If Burris is seated as our state’s next U.S. senator, he’ll have to run for re-election in 2010. The Democratic primary is in early February of that year, less than 13 months from now.

Considering the racial hostility inflamed by this appointment, with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush leading the charge by first warning against “lynching” Burris and then comparing the U.S. Senate leadership to old-time southern sheriffs, there is no way that a legitimate white Democratic opponent will announce against Burris anytime soon. Too risky.

Yes, there may be some early interest expressed by the usual white liberal suspects, but those people have never shown an ability to move too far up the ladder.

The top white Democratic prospects will have to lie low until the heat dies down. Time is money in politics, and every day that goes by will mean one less day that they can’t raise cash.

A legit white opponent could eventually emerge. State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias comes to mind.

Giannoulias, who has set his sights on the governor’s office, would likely only run with the blessing of his mentor Barack Obama, however. Obama played a key role in the Senate’s capitulation to Burris this week by privately urging Democratic leaders to just get it over with and seat the guy. And you better believe there will be pressure on Obama from African-American politicos to endorse Burris, or at least stay out of the 2010 race.

A Giannoulias/Obama win also assumes the emergence of only one major white candidate. There could be more. Comptroller Dan Hynes, for instance. More than one white candidate would immensely help Burris’ primary chances.

Burris has become a national cause celebre, so he ought to be able to raise lots of early campaign money from African Americans throughout the country. And because 46 percent of Illinois Democrats support his appointment, the move wasn’t as unpopular with his party as some (like me) assumed.

Then there’s the general election. Democrats are in a pickle with voters right now — Burris, Blagojevich, Todd Stroger, etc. — but that doesn’t mean Illinois voters automatically love Republicans.

Plus, what sort of Republican might emerge from a primary? If past experience dictates, it will be either a conservative who will repel general election voters, or a badly damaged moderate. And, remember, “moderate” is a term that can be easily twisted to “right-winger.” Just ask Judy Baar Topinka.

The dynamic changes if Pat Quinn can persuade the General Assembly to call a snap special election after he is sworn in as governor. But I’m not so sure Quinn will be able to keep that promise. Legislative Democrats don’t want to take the chance of a Republican winning the seat — even if the chance is somewhat small.

Barring that prospect, Burris might just surprise everybody by winning in 2010. I wouldn’t bet big money on it yet, but I wouldn’t bet against him right now, either.

* Meanwhile, I was shocked yesterday that the Republicans on the impeachment committee let this pass without much notice

A potentially troublesome new detail emerged about Roland Burris’ controversial U.S. Senate appointment Thursday after a state House panel voted unanimously to recommend Gov. Blagojevich be impeached.

For the first time, Burris indicated that he asked Blagojevich’s former chief of staff and college classmate, Lon Monk, to relay his interest in the Senate seat to the governor last July or September. […]

That testimony appears to differ from an affidavit Burris submitted to the impeachment panel this week in which he stated he spoke to no “representatives” of the governor about the Senate post prior to Dec. 26.

Federal prosecutors, who identified Monk as “Lobbyist 1″ in their criminal complaint against Blagojevich, indicated they tapped Monk’s phone in November as Blagojevich moved to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

It’s too late to do anything about it now.

* More Burris stuff…

* Bob Benenson’s Jigsaw Politics: Early Illinois Primary Would Give Burris Just Months to Prove Himself

* Roland Burris asked ex-Rod Blagojevich aide about Senate seat

* Burris called Blagojevich aide to try to get nephew state job

* Durbin: Burris testimony will get ‘careful review’

* Burris denies Blago quid pro quo for Senate seat

* Burris says no improper deals for Senate seat

* Burris confident after questioning

* Monument reflects appointee’s ambitions

* Burris explains why his tombstone was created already


  1. - Juice - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:00 am:

    The question that I honestly can’t believe wasn’t asked was whether Lon Monk made any suggestions as to how Roland could improve his chances. That is central to the Senate seat controversy, and the entire committee completely missed an opportunity to dig deeper.

  2. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:01 am:

    I generally agree with your column, Rich. If there is a legitimate white candidate (not some moonbat like Jan Schakowsky) against Burris in a 1v1 situation, I think Burris loses. Otherwise, he could certainly survive the primary, and then the general election comes down to whether the GOP can get a legit candidate (Vallas, Kirk) to run for the US Senate, along with the state of the economy and whether Todd Stroger is on the ballot, for example.

  3. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:17 am:

    If he’s up to it, Burris would be a prohibitive favorite in a primary. In a general election, I would have to see the candidate.

    But I wonder if two years in the Senate might be enough for him. Nice addition to his rock and he can enjoy his retirement.

    Or there could be an ambassadorship in his future if Obama wants to get involved. But I hope Obama stays out of Illinois politics. It’s already damaged him enough during the transition.

  4. - chiatty - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:26 am:

    Never say never, but unless he gets a bit of electoral math magic along the lines of what happened to Moseley-Braun, he’ll get trounced. He’s not smart, he’s a bad campaigner and he won’t raise nearly enough money to be competitive.

  5. - Bill Baar - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:34 am:

    I agree with your column. All sorts of unknowns but he’s hardly unelectable. When asked how what would be different in 2010, Burris responded he’d be the incumbent. Incumbency is a bleepen valuable thing and Burris just showed he knows how the game is played.

  6. - Random Task - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:34 am:

    It is not a good bet that a Republican moderate would come out of a Senate primary “bloodied.” No conservative candidate has made any moves on the senate race thus far (other than some soundings by Peter Roskam whose new W&M seat is likely to keep him in the House). If Mark Kirk does run, (and it looks like he’s laying the groudnwork) he would be much better funded than any conservative opponent, has huge name ID compared to any possible conservative opponent, has a much stronger record as a campaigner, and the list goes on. Kirk may also surprise many people with strong support from some solid conservatives who know he is the strongest candidate. The ususal suspects will hate his record on abortion and the anti-immigration folks will spew their venom, but there are already some conservatives who are urging him to run.

    That being said, I can’t imagine many Democrats being excited about a Burris-Kirk match up in 2010.

  7. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:37 am:

    ===If Mark Kirk does run, (and it looks like he’s laying the groudnwork) ===

    Kirk was laying the groundwork for a special election bid. Not sure at all that he’d risk his seat in a regular election.

  8. - sal-says - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:37 am:

    So, will IL get concistently good government before the country is out of the current financial depression? Will we get it in another generation? Will IL ever get it?

  9. - Skeeter - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:39 am:

    I think you are over-estimating the influence of Bobby Rush. A lot of people don’t like him and haven’t for a while. Rumor is that, if Rush decides to run for re-election, he will have a well-funded opponent. Rush, assuming his health holds and he does run, is going to have to work hard just to hold his own seat, much less influence any other race.

    Any candidate that takes a leadership role now will be remembers as someone who stood up to both Bobby Rush and the corrupt governor, and that’s a good thing.

    For what it worth, I am also not buying that Burris will be “the” black candidate in 2010. The potential field is pretty deep. Kwame Raoul comes to mind first. If Kwame goes on the attack, he might emerge as a front-runner. His support in his district is very strong, and in many ways, he’s like Obama in that he also appeals to educated white voters. If Kwame is ready to take that leadership role, the Senate seat could be his.

  10. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:40 am:

    ===I am also not buying that Burris will be “the” black candidate in 2010.===

    The pressure on black IL politicos to stay out of the race will be immense and intense. I really doubt that Kwame could raise the money to run in a statewide primary that quickly.

  11. - Skeeter - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:49 am:

    With regard to Kirk –

    He’s proven he can win in a district that leans blue.

    If he gets the nomination, I’m not sure that he can be beat.

    One note — the general election will to some degree tie into the Dem primary for Cook County Board President. If Claypool (or somebody else) defeats Todd), then the Dems should have their usual year.

    However, if the ticket in Cook County features Todd Stroger, it will be a very tough year for the Dems. A lot of Cook County Dems will stay home and the media coverage statewide of Todd will do some major damage to the party.

    If the GOP nominates a fiscal conservative for County Board Pres (somebody most of us have not heard of — a Fortune 500 finance guy would be ideal) then Todd would likely lose his seat and drag down the rest of the ticket. If Burris is also on the ticket, it could be very ugly.

  12. - Skeeter - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 9:54 am:

    With regard to Rich’s comment re Kwame —

    Kwame could do it if he gets out front on this.

    Now is the time though. He can’t wait. He must emerge as the alternate voice against the usual corrupt ways and if he does so, the money will follow.

    Within the month it should be clear whether Kwame is ready to take that role.

    For what it is worth, he currently represents my district. Our prior state senator has done some good things, and I admit I would like to see Kwame follow that path.

  13. - BigLibAgainstBurris - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:16 am:

    I think your column is well thought-out, but I still think Burris is toast. I’m a city liberal who hasn’t voted for a Republican since the 1990s. But even if Burris wins the primary, I don’t see a set of circumstances in which I would vote for him. Even a very conservative candidate who did not represent any of my values would be preferable to pulling the lever for Burris. And if he’s lost me, I don’t see how he gets any moderates or non-black liberals.

  14. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:18 am:

    ===Even a very conservative candidate who did not represent any of my values would be preferable to pulling the lever for Burris.===

    That would be true if the election was today. But we don’t know for sure what the public will be focused on in November of 2010.

  15. - jerry - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:20 am:

    I think that it’s a bad sign for Burris that only 67% of black voters support him. That doesn’t bode well for him in a primary, especially since he’s under 50% with Democratic voters. I think that demographics that are underrepresented in government support their own in pretty high numbers (Republican(or Republican-leaning) women crossed over to vote Clinton in the Democratic primary, Obama won well over 90% of the black vote nationally in the Presidential race, John Stroger won the Democratic Cook County President nomination despite being nearly brain dead a few years ago). So, 67% seems really low.

    Maybe it’s because he’s seen as not being electable. Rich has mentioned in the past that black voters can be very skeptical of supporting a black politician if they don’t think he can win (such as with black voters in South Carolina prior to Obama’s Iowa win).

    I would also say that only getting 67% support from black voters shows that black voters aren’t buying the argument that Burris is opposed because he’s black. Black voters aren’t dumb, they know that Burris’ appointment is playing to the most cynical of political opportunism.

    That could also explain the remarkably high support amongst whites - white Republicans figuring Roland Burris will be easy to beat in 2 years.

    It will be a great environment for Kwame Raoul to make a move for the Senate seat.

    Sorry if that was a bit jumbled, I tried to keep it short, but kept coming up with more…

  16. - BigLibAgainstBurris - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:23 am:

    I understand your point @10:18, Rick, but the wounds caused by Burris’s part in this mess are pretty deep. I just don’t see them healing in less than 2 years. If someone like me is this ticked off, I bet there’s a lot of animosity towards him out there.

  17. - jerry - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:26 am:

    Bill Baar - Burris showed that he knows how to make a spineless wimp like Harry Reid look like a fool. This is not hard to do - just look at Joe Lieberman. There’s nothing Joe Lieberman can do that will cause Harry Reid to kick him out. The only other thing Burris did was play the Republican members of the Impeachment Committee for fools. They walked into it, hoping to find an opening so that they could renew their call for a special election. Burris played them. He still has less than 50% support from his own party, less than 2 years from the next election. He hasn’t had to fundraise in years, and now he’d have to follow federal guidelines. He starts out extremely vulnerable. If he gets seated, the first public opinion poll of him regarding his election prospects will almost undoubtedly show him well below 50%, maybe even below 40%.

    All those republican voters who support the appointment now will quickly change their tune, after all.

  18. - Redbright - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:37 am:

    The voting results in Cook County and the City of Chicago will greatly reflect the direction of the Dem party leaders. I’ve explained on this blog before how the election judges control the outcome.

    Short version: if you want to keep your public job or your happy life, etc., you let the election judge see your paper ballot before you stick it in the scanner. That’s why the precinct captains announce to the judges at the beginning of the Election Day which races are to be monitored. Presumably one of the key races will be Stroger’s. There’s a limit to how many races the judges can check as the ballot goes past their eyes. Three –Cook Co Pres / US Senate / Gov – may be one too many.

    Presumably Forrest is running again; he passed on a job in DC. If the Republicans had a creditable candidate, that might be enough for the party leaders to drop Stroger rather than lose control of the County.

    JJJr may not give up his House seat for one of the statewide openings but the Mrs could run.

  19. - sal-says - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    Tombstone pic:


    Nice for IL again.

  20. - David Ormsby - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    Burris win? Ah - no.

  21. - GOP'er - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:50 am:

    President Obama will likely still be very popular come 2010, especially in Illinois. He’ll still be on his honeymoon with voters. The economy is going to get worse, but most voters won’t blame Obama, at least not yet in 2010.

    Anyway, when Obama comes to Illinois to campaign for the Dem candidate - be it Burris or whoever -GAME OVER.

    It will be pretty easy to convince IL voters to go with the winning team, the one that can help funnel the largess from D.C. with the help of Chicago’s own in the White House (and Peoria’s own at the Dept. of Transportation).

    The IL Republicans got nothing to counter. The Dems made a big step towards cleaning house of Blago today. The Senate wraps it up in a month or whatever - again, led by the Dems.

    Meanwhile the IL GOP is as ridiculous and incompetent as ever.

    So same thing in 2010 as in all the last recent elections. When it comes to every statewide race, the Dem Primary WILL BE the election.

  22. - grand old partisan - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:50 am:

    Re: the Dem primary in 2010:
    “The top white Democratic prospects will have to lie low until the heat dies down”

    Even if/when it does “die down,” it won’t take much to spark it right back up again. Just look at how quickly this appointment went from zero chance-to-‘plantation politics.’

    I think that if he wants to run again in 2010, the Dems are stuck with Burris. It would be career suicide for any white Dem to run against him.

    Re: the General:
    “Plus, what sort of Republican might emerge from a primary?”

    If the answer to that question is “the one who survived this cycle’s conservative-vs-moderate fight to the death,” then specifics don’t matter. We need a heavyweight to clear the field and save their resouces for the General.

    Now, whoever that is will be running into a minefield. If he/she does anything short of dropping out and endorsing Burris, there will be efforts by some to portray them as using “racial code words” or some junk like that. We need someone for who those charges will seem out of place. As exhausted as the term is, we need someone who has the temperament of a “uniter.” One way to do that is to pick someone young, under 50, at least.

    Kirk certainly fits that bill, and I think that if the party can clear the field and commit serious national support, he might be persuaded to take the plunge.

  23. - Ghost - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:54 am:

    I disgaree with you Rich, but then again I thought Harold Washington was unelectable as well.

    There is a lot of ammo which can be borught to bear on Burris, just run side by sides of him saying Blago was not competent to make the apointment with his acceptance with a fade to Blago promising only to give the seat to somone who has given to blag, and pul up a list of Burris contributions. Not to ment the 1.2 mill loan and other ridbits.

    But then again, This is Illinois, so who knows.

  24. - Ahoy - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 11:10 am:

    Very good points, I think one thing that could (please note the word could) hurt Burris is if the Republican’s actually have a couple good candidates in the primary. The Dem’s won’t want to risk losing the seat and know that a good Republican candidate would have plenty of amunition.

    Kirk and Radogno would both be good candidates.

    Maybe the Ditka and Edgar rumors will start up again.

  25. - dupage progressive - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 11:32 am:

    Any way to post the CNN footage of the Gov. lumbering down his street? It’s a little different from the NBC footage above.

    It’s hilarious, and we all could use more comic relief from this.

    His jogging form today kinda reminds me of Elaine from seinfeld when she tries to dance.
    So funny!!

  26. - cermak_rd - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 12:04 pm:

    Radogno? She got pretty much trounced (41% - 53%) in her last statewide election for a non-incumbent race. She all but accused our current treasurer of mob ties!

  27. - Cowgirl - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 12:23 pm:

    Good observations, Rich. I too don’t believe that IF Burris is seated he will be unelectable.

    However, given that there may have been shenanigans behind his appointment, I believe that the US Senate has the right, and the responsibility under the US Constitution to hold hearings into whether he should be seated. Whether the US Senate has the courage to do the right thing is another question. Therefore, there is a very good chance that he will be seated.

    Generally, it takes the federal prosecutors many years to get around to indicting our politicians, so even if it turns out that there were criminal agreements between Burris and Blagojevich, Burris probably would not have been indicted prior to the 2010 election.

    Nonetheless, if Burris is seated, he might be electable in 2010, especially given the inclinations and attitudes of Illinois voters. Illinois voters have historically turned a blind eye to unethical conduct, or the appearance of unethical conduct.

  28. - vole - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 12:25 pm:

    How can anyone seriously blame the voters for the Blago saga when this type of deck stacking determines our future choices for senator? Please. Another sign that our electoral system is seriously dysfunctional and that democracy is a delusion.

  29. - Jechislo - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 12:26 pm:

    I don’t think Burris could ever come close to generating the level of black support that Obama did. And, 2010 will be an ‘off’ election year. With the level of disgust Illinois’ citizens have now with the Democratic party, I think the odds are against Burris getting re-elected. But then what the heck, Illinois voters elected Hot-Rod twice.

  30. - Jechislo - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 12:29 pm:

    Ahoy - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 11:10 am:

    Edgar is still tied to MSI. He won’t EVER run.

  31. - Cowgirl - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 1:22 pm:

    One added thought.

    If Burris’ sworn testimony and his affidavit (a sworn document) differ dramatically with respect to his contacts with Blagojevich about the Senate seat, there may be an issue of perjury. As I’m sure we all remember from the Clinton saga, perjury is a felony and may be grounds for impeachment.

    In Clinton’s case, the perjury was NOT about his office, but about sex. And indeed, whether he had committed perjury was in question, because his lie was not about a fact directly at issue in a sexual harassment case (it was about consensual sex with another woman, not the plaintiff, and therefore potentially not even perjury). Nonetheless, the lie had nothing to do with his actions as President, nor his becoming President.

    In sharp contrast, in Burris’ case, the discrepancy is directly about his appointment to the office, and about whether there was any quid pro quo or illegal actions surrounding his appointment. THAT is serious.

    I hope Mr. Burris has a good explanation for this discrepancy. One that holds up under scrutiny. But if it doesn’t, we likely won’t know until AFTER the 2010 election, unfortunately. These things seem to take forever to play themselves out.

    And meanwhile, the US Senate may well capitulate and seat the man, despite Blagjevich’s indictment for attempting to sell the seat, despite Burris’ substantial monetary contributions to Blagojevich, despite Burris’ equivocation on just what contacts he had with Blagojevich.

  32. - Phil Collins - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 1:31 pm:

    Vole, voters should be blamed for the Blago saga because he was elected governor, twice. I never voted for him.

  33. - Get Real - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 1:40 pm:

    I am a Democrat and want things to go well for us in 2010 but lets get real. We have A Democratic Governor who will have been removed from office and possibly be on trial during the election cycle. Rod’s choice for senate will leed the ticket as well as Rod’s Lt. running for Governor. Also, don’t forget about Todd Stroger running for re election. In addition, if the economy is in the tank with Democrats in control nationally we will see a repeat of 1994. With that said for the love of God we have got to have Statewide cadidates with a long hard record of opposing Blago.

  34. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 3:09 pm:

    In Clinton’s case, the perjury was NOT about his office, but about sex.

    And all this time, I thought it was about sex in his office.

  35. - this voter will remember - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 5:03 pm:

    I would have supported Roland Burris if he would not have taken it under these circumstances. If the Governor was not accused of trying to sell the seat to make a profit and Burris would have ran in a special election to obtain the seat, then I would have supported him. Why Burris would want it under these circumstances make me think his motives are not right.

  36. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 5:33 pm:

    Good for Senator Durbin! It is good to see someone with a backbone in Washington.

    It looks like Senator Durbin is intent upon not allowing the tainted appointment of Burris to take effect in the Senate. He says that the Senate will not waive its rule requiring a Secretary of State’s signature.

    This would allow the next governor to appoint someone to the Senate seat without the taint of pay-to-play.

    It may be that if a few Senators show some courage, Blagojevich’s blantant play to racial politics will be unsuccessful, and his attempt to sell the US Senate seat will be thwarted.

  37. - Anon - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 6:52 pm:

    I think there should be more investigation into Burris’ first conversation expressing interest in the possible senate vacancy, Patti B.’s new job and the fact that Burris’ partner in Burris & Lebed (Fred Lebed)is a director or board member at her new job.

  38. - blackdem - Friday, Jan 9, 09 @ 10:11 pm:

    You can count us out if you want but dont underestimate the fact that a coalition is being put together to try to consolidate the black vote here in Cook County. And although everyone makes fun of Todd Stroger, he has learned from past mistakes and he is moving forward. There are no scandals, indictments or shady business like there has been in the State and City. But you would think he is corrupt and shady as his detractors point out. Not all of us are “Obama” like. With political savy we should greatly influence the 2010 Gov, Co Pres, and Senator seats.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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