The curse of Obama's old Senate seat

The president's last job certainly helped him out -- so why does no one else want it?

By Gabriel Winant
Published July 10, 2009 9:30PM (EDT)

It’s a big day for developments in 2010 Senate races at War Room. We had Sestak and Specter, Fiorina and Boxer and now, some action in Illinois. Or rather, some inaction. Rep. Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican from suburban Chicago who is by consensus the GOP’s best hope for picking up the seat currently occupied by retiring Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, is not going to run.

This must come as a nasty surprise for Republican strategists, who thought that Kirk was in, and that he gave them a real -- and rare -- shot at a seat in a blue state. According to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, Kirk was peeved that the rest of the Republican Illinois delegation wouldn’t get behind him, apparently because of his vote for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Cillizza adds that there is now an effort underway to get Andy McKenna, the state party chair and another candidate for the seat, to drop out so that Kirk can be convinced to reenter.

The Senate seat in question, of course, is President Obama’s old spot. It was infamously opened up for Burris thanks to the president’s inauguration, with an assist from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Since Republican Peter Fitzgerald declined to seek a second term in 2004, the seat has seen a rocky few years: Obama’s top primary opponent, millionaire Blair Hull, watched his campaign implode over domestic violence revelations. Then Obama’s original Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, had to drop out after an embarrassing story from his divorce surfaced. The Republicans scrambled to find a candidate, at one point considering Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, and settled on a rather bizarre choice.

Obama came along and took 70 percent of the vote, thankfully putting an end to the madness for four years, but once he left for the White House, the Blagojevich-Burris weirdness broke loose, ultimately leading to where we are today. Let’s call it the curse of Alan Keyes.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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