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"You need a hug?" state rep David Miller asked me Wednesday afternoon.
It was kind of him to ask, but not entirely out of the blue. Miller was on the phone from Denver, where the overriding theme of Democratic Party unity somehow resulted in a spontaneous hug-o-rama among the Illinois contingent that morning.
Even by convention standards of hokum and horseshit, it was a brilliant PR move—except that Miller, who represents the far south side and south suburbs, swears it wasn’t.
"It was definitely not a stunt," he says. "Congressman Jackson started it by hugging Congressman Rush. There was a standing ovation, and people got real emotional and were tearing up, and Congressman Jackson said to the governor and speaker, 'You’ve got to do this,' and they did. . . . You can script a speech, but you can’t script the governor and speaker hugging.”
It may be too much to hope that it could actually produce a functioning state government—just a short time later, state senator James Meeks was unable to get Madigan and Governor Blagojevich to sit down together to talk about education funding. Even if, as Miller argues, the convention isn’t the time and place for that, no one’s assuming the Madigan-Blago feud is over.
In fact, all kinds of political jockeying is under way. On Tuesday state senate president Emil Jones began pushing Kwame Raoul as a replacement for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate if the Democrats win the White House. Raoul’s the labor lawyer who was tapped to take over Barack Obama’s old job in the Illinois legislature, and supporters say he’d be the right guy to move up again because, like his predecessor, he’s a young, smart, African-American who "isn’t divisive"—which is another way of saying the other leading black candidate, the aforementioned Jesse Jackson Jr., is . . . or at least was before inspiring the great ’08 hugfest.
Several other elected officials have said they’re interested in this job that may or may not open up, including most of the rest of Chicago’s congressional delegation (Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis), while Illinois treasurer/Obama hoops partner Alexi Giannoulias and comptroller Dan Hynes, who finished second to Obama in the 2004 Democratic primaries, could claim statewide support if they decided to go for it.
Miller, an ally of Jackson’s, says no one’s been campaigning too loudly. "There is some talk, but not really overwhelming, because there’s a sense that we’ve got to get past November," he tells me. "Then you’re going to see a number of names come up. I mean, who wouldn’t want it? But there’s actually been more discussion about people running for governor [in 2010]. Giannoulias has held lots of events out here, and Lisa Madigan and Dan Hynes are obviously around."
All the elected officials and party activists I’ve spoken to—some at the convention, some out organizing and campaigning—are rightly concerned that in an election that should go Democratic, given the debacle of the Bush years, Obama won't win without extraordinary turnout and support from non-Democrats. Illinois should be a lock for him, of course, but several of the surrounding states could end up deciding it.
"How can we parlay this unity talk into an Obama presidency?" Miller asks. "I’d say we can start by hugging Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. That’s where our resources are needed."