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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

All right. And now, to that vacant Senate seat and what this whole affair means for it. Slate.com's John Dickerson has written about this, and he's here now. And, John, who are the main candidates for this job, and how might they be embroiled in this affair?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate.com): Well, there are several main candidates. One of them was Valerie Jarrett, who's taken herself out of the running. She's now a senior adviser for President-elect Obama and is coming to the White House, but she was considered the lead contender. Jesse Jackson, Jr., the congressman, is a very strong candidate according to the governor, who met with him this week.

A couple of others - Tammy Duckworth, who is the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Danny Davis, another congressman, is also in the running, Illinois senator - Senate President Emil Jones, and there are others, Congressman Luis Gutierrez. So there are a lot of them in the mix now.

One thing that's fascinating is, in the charges yesterday, it appears that one of the candidates - and none of them are named - one of the candidates, though, appears to have played, at some level, with the governor as the governor was trying to get money or a position of power in return for giving the Senate seat.

BRAND: This is so-called candidate number five.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes, candidate number five. Again, they're all named only in that very, very vague way. It's easy to figure out who candidate number one is. That's Valerie Jarrett. And according to the charges, the governor was - very clearly believed that Barack Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett to get the post.

But candidate number five, who the governor believed Barack Obama did not want, was somebody he flirted with naming, A, to make Barack Obama angry and, B, because it appears candidate number five was willing to engage in this play-for-pay or play-for-pay scheme.

BRAND: Now, do we know why Valerie Jarrett took her name out of the running and is now in a White House position?

Mr. DICKERSON: This is a great mystery. There was lots of reporting that Barack Obama wanted her to take his seat. Clearly, the governor thought Barack Obama wanted her to take his old Senate seat.

And then suddenly, on about the 9th or 10th of November, everybody got the opposite indication. No, Obama doesn't want her there. He wants her in the White House, and Valerie Jarrett, on the 12th of November, pulled her name out of contention. It was abrupt, and there has been no explanation about whether she knew anything that might have been going on. It's a big mystery.

BRAND: Well, and how does Barack Obama come out of all this?

Mr. DICKERSON: If you read the charges, he comes out shining. He and his aides would not play at all with the governor. In fact, it drove the governor to distraction, and he created these fountains of profanity when he thought about what President-elect Obama was willing to give him for the Senate seat, which is to say nothing. And so he was quite angry that he wasn't getting anything out of the Obama camp.

When President-elect Obama was asked about this, though, his answer was not that nourishing. He said that he didn't know anything that was going on. That's excessively vague. His good friend, Valerie Jarrett, was up for the post. He appeared to be pushing her. So it's hard to believe that he would know nothing about that.

There was a little confusion also about whether he had talked to Blagojevich about his successor. David Axelrod, a top strategist for Obama, had at one point said that the two had talked. It then came out that Axelrod said he was mistaken. They had not talked. So we know the two never talked about it, but still open is the question of what exactly Obama knew about this pay-for-play scheme that Blagojevich was running.

BRAND: Slate.com's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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