Who Will Succeed Obama Or McCain In The Senate? This year's presidential election will create at least one Senate vacancy. In Illinois, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is one of the possible choices to fill Barack Obama's seat, while Arizona's Democratic governor must name a Republican to the Senate if John McCain is elected president.
NPR logo Who Will Succeed Obama Or McCain In The Senate?

Who Will Succeed Obama Or McCain In The Senate?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is just one of many Illinois Dems who could be appointed to the Senate if Obama becomes president. hide caption

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Barbara Boxer's 1992 Senate race was one of just a handful where two Jews ran against each other. hide caption

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Cynthia McKinney, the former Democratic congresswoman from Georgia, is now the Green Party's nominee for president. hide caption

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Thirty-four years ago today, Rep. Larry Hogan (R-MD) becomes the first GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee to call for Nixon's impeachment. hide caption

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Q: This year's presidential election will create at least one Senate vacancy; other Senate seats could become vacant depending on who becomes vice president. That said, who are John McCain and Barack Obama's likely successors in the Senate? – Greg Jackson, Burbank, Calif.

A: The situation is different in Illinois, where Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) may name whomever he wants (presumably a Democrat), and Arizona, where state law stipulates that Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) must name a successor from the same party as the departed incumbent (and thus a Republican). Here's an early-bird look:

ILLINOIS: A lot of variables face Blagojevich, whose popularity has fallen and whose relationship with many of his fellow Democrats is strained. The state has a history of having its senators coming from downstate or Chicago, but not both from the same geographic region. With Sen. Dick Durbin hailing from downstate, the betting is that an Obama successor would be a Chicagoan. Odds also favor the choice being either a member of the House or an African-American, and if the governor picked Danny Davis or Jesse Jackson Jr., all three criteria would be reached. Jackson seems far more ambitious than Davis, appears to have more advanced political smarts, and would probably be better prepared to run statewide in 2010. His admonishment/lecture of his famous dad, following the Reverend's surgical suggestion regarding Obama that was caught on tape, probably helped his cause.

Other House members thought to be under consideration are Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, who is close to Blagojevich and who would be the state's first Latino senator, and Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, who like Jackson is an Obama national campaign co-chair. She might, however, be tarred by the ethics troubles of her husband, Bob Creamer, who went to prison for check kiting. Schakowsky is white.

If Obama had a say, it might very well be Emil Jones Jr., the powerful state senate president who is also from Chicago, African-American, and a Blago ally. Obama has given Jones much of the credit for his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate while he was still in the state legislature. But sending Jones to Washington may be too great a loss for the governor, who needs him in Springfield. Plus, Jones will be 73 in October, so if he were appointed he might only be a caretaker, staying on until the 2010 election.

Other Blagojevich allies on the list: Tammy Duckworth, the state director of veteran's affairs and Iraq war veteran who lost a 2006 bid to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R) in Congress; and state Rep. Jay Hoffman, who carries the governor's water in the state legislature.

Names also mentioned include three statewide elected officials, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, and Comptroller Dan Hynes, but they are even more unlikely to be selected.

ARIZONA: It's a trickier proposition for Gov. Napolitano, who must name a Republican if McCain is elected president. Does she name the best Republican, or the easiest to defeat? She is thought to be on Obama's VP list (though probably not on the "short" list), but there's talk back home that she would love to run for the Senate in 2010, so that may be part of the calculation.

Here are some of the Republicans whose names have come up:

Ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth – Defeated for re-election in 2006 after a campaign in which his anti-immigration views and ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid a part in the surprise outcome. Even Republicans are known to think Hayworth, a strong conservative, is too full of himself to be the party's best choice for the Senate.

Rep. Jeff Flake – Like McCain, or at least like the old McCain, Flake is an independent-thinking lawmaker who has not hesitated to take on members of his own party. Nearly every Republican in Arizona is a conservative, but Flake is an old-school Goldwater conservative. He was once thought to be eyeing a primary challenge to McCain for his Senate seat.

Ex-Rep. Jim Kolbe – The only openly gay Republican while he was in the House, the more moderate Kolbe retired in 2006 and refused to endorse the GOP candidate hoping to succeed him, saying his views on immigration were way out of the mainstream. A leading Bush ally, his appointment would certainly lead to a primary challenge from the right when the seat came up in 2010.

Rep. John Shadegg – Shadegg, whose father helped engineer the rise of Barry Goldwater several generations ago, is one of the leading conservatives in the House who has taken on party leaders he felt were straying from principle. He hinted he would not seek another term this year but recently changed his mind. If the GOP suffers another electoral rout in the House, one would assume that Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt would be pushed out of their posts. If that happened, Shadegg would presumably be one of those hoping to step in.

Others mentioned include Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who is currently preparing a 2010 run for governor, and state Sen. Russell Pearce, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration who faces a potentially tough primary in September.

For the record, no Democrat has won a Senate seat here since Dennis DeConcini 20 years ago.

Q: The Minnesota Senate race will presumably be between two Jewish candidates [Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and likely Democratic challenger Al Franken]. How unusual is that in Senate races? – Jonathan Levy, Chicago

A: It's not common, but it's also the case in New Jersey this year, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) facing a challenge from former Rep. Dick Zimmer (R). Here are some examples of Senate races in the past that featured Jewish candidates (winner listed first); I can't think of any others:

2006 (Connecticut) – Joe Lieberman (I) vs. Alan Schlesinger (R)

1996 and 1990 (Minnesota) – Paul Wellstone (D) vs. Rudy Boschwitz (R)

1992 (California) – Barbara Boxer (D) vs. Bruce Herschensohn (R)

1980 (New York) – Elizabeth Holtzman (D) vs. Jacob Javits (Liberal) – neither won

Q: Will Hillary Clinton run again in 2012? – Wanda Debarge, San Bernardino, Calif.

A: I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone in 2012. But I'm all but certain the answer is yes, should McCain win in November. One would think that a Clinton bid in '12 would be unthinkable if Obama wins. But stranger things have happened. And she'll be 65 in four years. It could be her last shot at the White House.

Q: I found it typical of you, as well as NPR, to glorify Jesse Helms' career despite his history of racism. Your desire to be even-handed is despicable in light of his use of race to advance his career. – Richard Price, Augusta, Ga.

A: I wasn't glorifying anything. On July 4, at 11:10 a.m., I received a call at home from NPR's Morning Edition saying that Helms, the former five-term North Carolina GOP senator, had died, and could I go on the air in 20 minutes to talk about his career. In my three-and-a-half minute scriptless obit, I talked about how he was a conservative hero and how he prided himself on his reputation as "Senator No." But I also talked about how he used race, his humming of "Dixie" in a Senate elevator to taunt Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL), and about the famous ad he used in 1990 against his black opponent, Harvey Gantt, in which you see white hands crumpling up a job rejection letter while a narrator says the job went to a "minority."

You can take issue all you want with how I phrased things about Helms' career. But I wasn't about to trash someone 20 minutes after his death. That's not the way I operate.

Sen. Jesse Helms had his supporters in North Carolina and his detractors. hide caption

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Q: Why, when a McCain supporter says something outlandish, you say McCain "distances himself" from the remark. However, if it's an Obama supporter ... you say Obama throws him "under the bus." I associate comments like that with a Fox News commentator, not NPR! – Anne Marten, Grosse Point Woods, Mich.


A: Throwing Wesley Clark "under the bus" was an awful, cliched comment, and I regretted it the moment it came out of my mouth (on Talk of the Nation). I'm sorry you associate it with a Fox News commentator; I associate it with a lazy choice of words.


My point, inarticulate as it was, was that Clark didn't say the horrific things about McCain that everyone said he did. He didn't attack McCain's war record, as so many people said he did. And yet nearly everyone reacted badly to the comments, including Obama, who said he "rejected" Clark's remarks. I don't know how that makes me a Fox commentator.


SENATE RATING UPDATE: One change since the June 26 column on Senate races – Kansas moves from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.




July 23-27 – UNITY '08 Convention (Journalists of Color), Chicago. Barack Obama scheduled to attend on July 27.


July 29 – Oklahoma primary. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) is seeking a third full term.


July 30-Aug. 2 – Urban League convention, Orlando. Barack Obama and John McCain scheduled to attend on Aug. 1.


Aug. 5 – Primaries in Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Carl Levin (D-MI) seeking re-election. Primary runoff in Georgia.


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******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********


This day in campaign history: Rep. Larry Hogan, a conservative Maryland Republican seeking his party's nomination for governor, becomes the first GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of President Nixon. A heretofore Nixon defender, Hogan says the "evidence convinces me that my president has lied repeatedly [about Watergate], deceiving public officials and the American people" (July 23, 1974). The move backfires on Hogan, who goes on to lose the GOP primary in September to Louise Gore in a major upset.


Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org