Last week, a federal judge ordered Illinois to hold a special election for its US Senate seat to complete the term of office won by Barack Obama in 2004. Disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris after a process that landed him in court on corruption charges, but the election gave voters an opportunity to select a new interim Senator for the final two months of the term. The candidates for that seat presumably would be the nominees for the seat’s next term, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk, but yesterday Burris announced that he wants voters to consider him as well:
Illinois Sen. Roland Burris is moving ahead with a legal challenge to a judge’s decision blocking new candidates from filing to run in a special election for the final months of President Barack Obama’s old Senate term.
Burris filed a notice Wednesday evening indicating that he will appeal U.S. District Judge John Grady’s ruling that the parties’ nominees for the Nov. 2 general election would automatically be placed on the ballot as nominees for a special election to serve between Election Day and the start of the next Congress.
That decision would make Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk the major-party candidates in a special. But Burris wants the option of running for the seat himself, in order to serve an additional few weeks in his appointed office.
In theory, Burris has an argument. A new interim Senator would have the very lowest amount of seniority, although in a session only lasting a few weeks, that will hardly make much difference anyway from Burris’ status. Burris has participated in the policy debates, while either Giannoulias or Kirk would come in cold. Theoretically, this could put Illinois at a disadvantage.
However, in practical terms, the argument is bunk, and its implications worse for the Democrats. The other Senator from Illinois is Dick Durbin, whose #2 position in Democratic leadership provides plenty of influence for his state. Burris is a tainted figure anyway, thanks to his association with Blagojevich and his serial prevarications on the nature of his effort to win the appointment in the first place.
But it’s the electoral implications that are the most intriguing. Assuming Burris succeeds in getting his name on the ballot, he will be competing with Giannoulias, who faces his own ethics issues, for the special-election votes from Democrats, and presumably Burris’ support from the African-American community will stick with him. It practically guarantees a win for Mark Kirk in the special election, even if Giannoulias somehow wins the regular election for the seat. That would send Kirk to Washington just in time to keep Harry Reid’s agenda from advancing in the lame-duck session.
More likely, though, the appearance of yet another scandal-plagued Democrat on the Illinois ballot to join Giannoulias’ own image problems will demotivate Democrats and left-leaning independents, while stoking anti-incumbent fervor. Burris could guarantee a win for Kirk in both elections and turn Barack Obama’s old seat into a GOP conversion.
Update: I picked the wrong thumbnail to use with this post initially, so if you saw the atheist pic and wondered what it meant, now you know. Sorry!