Madigan (D) Stays Put In Illinois; Kirk (R) Ready For Senate? : It's All Politics Lisa Madigan's surprise decision not to seek higher office in Illinois next year may result in a political domino effect.
NPR logo Madigan (D) Stays Put In Illinois; Kirk (R) Ready For Senate?

Madigan (D) Stays Put In Illinois; Kirk (R) Ready For Senate?

In all the years that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ethics were under the microscope — and this goes well before his arrest last year for attempting to sell a Senate seat — one thing was certain: Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general, (a) wanted to be governor, and (b) would have challenged Blago in the 2010 Democratic primary had he been presumptuous enough to seek a third term.

The political situation obviously changed with the governor's arrest and subsequent impeachment, conviction and removal from office. Blagojevich's ouster elevated Pat Quinn to the governorship, and whatever you want to say about Pat Quinn, his integrity was never in question.

And that became a dilemma for Madigan. The stepdaughter of powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan, Lisa's rationale for running for governor became harder to defend. At the same time, with Roland Burris' tenure as Barack Obama's Senate successor widely seen as a disaster, Illinois and national Democrats were pushing Lisa to run for the Senate — taking on several Dems in the primary, a list that may include Burris (whose campaign kitty is essentially empty) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. The word was that the White House was behind a Madigan-for-Senate primary bid. But was that the job she wanted?

Apparently she wants neither. In a surprise announcement today, Madigan, who turns 43 later this month, says she will seek a third term as AG, the "job that I love." No gubernatorial or Senate campaign, at least not in 2010.

NPR's David Schaper, who knows Madigan well, thinks a big factor in her decision was her family.

Lisa never wanted to run for Senate and was never seriously considering it until her friend and former Illinois state Senate seat mate, President Obama, asked her to consider it. She did and told me it would be hard to say no to him and all the other Chicagoans in D.C. (and at that point, eight or nine days ago, she said she hadn't made up her mind).

But I don't think her heart would have been in it. She has two daughters, ages 4 and 1, at home. As great of a life as being senator would be, it wouldn't have been a great family life for kids that young. Plus, she wants to raise the kids here in Chicago, not in D.C.

I think she also may have worried about alienating supporters in the African-American community, who — with or without Roland Burris — want an African-American in that seat.

For what's it's worth, while she likes Washington (undergrad at Georgetown, worked in Paul Simon's office in the '80s), she was never keen on being one in a hundred. She likes being in executive office more than in a legislative one.

The second family consideration comes in running for governor. She wanted (and still wants) that job. But I think she realized she simply cannot do it as long as her stepfather is still speaker. He is the most powerful politician in state politics and he is now, with Blagojevich gone, increasingly looking like the major obstacle to resolving the state budget mess and implementing substantive political reform in the state. Lawmakers and the governor still have not resolved how to balance the state's budget, which was due July 1. There's a $9 billion shortfall, and fixing the budget problems and cleaning up state government is going to be a very difficult job for whoever wins the 2010 governor's race. To do it with her father still in office would've been all the more sticky and tricky for Lisa.

Lastly, she really does enjoy being attorney general. Lisa feels she can make an impact on people's lives in the state in the current job. She also knows she's young enough and popular enough to have a wide open and bright future, from a job that is an excellent springboard for higher office whenever she wants to make that leap.

As expected, Madigan's withdrawal from higher office has had a domino effect. Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who was thought to be awaiting Madigan's decision, may now jump into the Senate race. That's the word from blogger Greg Hinz:

Sources said Mr. Kirk began making calls Wednesday morning as news emerged that the perceived front-runner on the Democratic side, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, would seek re-election and not run for the Senate or governor. ...

Mr. Kirk is believed to be the GOP's strongest potential candidate. A fiscal conservative and social moderate, he has put down strong Democratic challengers in each of the past two elections in his 10th District, even though the district is basically Democratic.

Another Kirk — state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R) — declared his candidacy for governor today. Another potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate is state Comptroller Dan Hynes.