I don’t have a prediction for this year’s Senate race. But I do have a prediction for 2016. Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias have done such a splendid job of making each other unelectable that whoever wins will go into office as a lame duck.
As someone else remarked, there seems to be a curse on this particular Senate seat. We just can’t keep anyone in Washington for the years it takes to build seniority and influence. The current occupant, Roland Burris, is a short-timer who’s practically a pariah in the Senate, thanks to his appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Time magazine named Burris one of the world’s "100 Least Influential People."
Burris’s predecessor, Barack Obama, intended all along to use the Senate as a stepping-stone to his deification, presidency. From 2005 to 2008, Illinois was represented by one senator and one presidential candidate. If you needed something done in Washington in those years, you called Dick Durbin.
On the night Peter Fitzgerald beat Carol Moseley-Braun, a friend said to me, “He didn’t win. She lost. He’ll be in and out of there in six years.” And he was. Once in office, he alienated his party by trying to block funding for a new Lincoln museum in Springfield, figuring it was just pork for Gov. George Ryan and his lobbyist pals. If he hadn’t stepped down he would have faced a primary challenge from a Republican more willing to play the game.
Carol Moseley-Braun, who couldn’t keep a chief of staff and met with Nigeria’s dictator without telling the State Department, was another one-term fluke who got lucky by winning a primary in which her two white candidates eviscerated each other. One of those candidates was Alan Dixon, who actually made it through two full terms. Before him, we had Adlai Stevenson III, who never liked being a senator and quit to fulfill his family birthright by running (unsuccessfully) for governor.
I’d love it if this Senate race produced a solon who could live up to the legacy of Paul Douglas, Everett Dirksen, Charles Percy or Paul Simon, but I don’t see it. If Giannoulias wins, he’ll be beaten in six years by Rep. Aaron Schock, who’s got to be in agony over the fact that he’s too young to run for the Senate this year. Kirk could be taken down by Lisa Madigan, the candidate the Democrats really wanted to run this year.
Schock and Madigan are both young. So far, both have been spotless, nimble politicians. They’re capable of holding the seat for a long, long time. It’s too bad we’ll have to wait six years to see either in the Senate.