- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

A newly released wiretap transcript in which Sen. Roland W. Burris seeks a Senate appointment as he discusses a campaign contribution for then-Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich raises another obstacle to his election chances if he decides to run in 2010, political analysts said Wednesday.

With the Chicago Democrat under two investigations in the so-called “pay-to-play” scandal that led to Mr. Blagojevich’s impeachment and indictment on federal corruption charges, the latest revelations have fueled increasing concerns among party officials that Mr. Burris’ candidacy would endanger the Democrats’ chances of holding on to the Senate seat.

“It is hard to see how he runs with this hanging over his head,” said veteran elections analyst Jennifer E. Duffy, who tracks Senate races at the Cook Political Report. “If Burris is in the race and ends up being the nominee, and both are big ifs, the Republican chances become better than 50-50” to take the seat, Ms. Duffy said.

“If on the other hand, there is another nominee, the race gets much harder for Republicans,” she said.

Mr. Burris, who says he has made no decision yet on whether he will seek his party’s nomination in the Democratic primary next March, denied Wednesday that he had done anything wrong, telling reporters, “Did I try to buy the seat? Never. Did I commit perjury? No.”

In the Nov. 13 telephone conversation with Mr. Blagojevich’s brother Robert, who headed the governor’s campaign fund, the transcript shows Mr. Burris offering to give the governor’s campaign committee a check, but acknowledges that doing anything more for the governor might appear as though he was “trying to buy an appointment” to fill the Senate seat being vacated by then-President-elect Obama.

“I mean, so Rob, I’m in a dilemma right now, wanting to help the governor,” Mr. Burris says in the transcript of a call that was taped by the FBI. “I know I could give him a check. Myself … I will personally do something, okay.”

“God knows, No. 1, I wanna help Rod. No. 2, I also wanna, you know, hope I get a consideration to get that appointment,” he says.

The wiretap transcript was released Tuesday after U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman ordered that it be sent to the Senate ethics committee, which is conducting an investigation into Mr. Burris’ appointment. An official on the panel, now in the early stages of its preliminary inquiry, said its rules forbid discussing the document.

Mr. Burris’ poll numbers are in the basement, with a Rasmussen poll showing his unfavorable rating at 73 percent. He has made little or no effort to raise funds for a campaign, bringing in only $845 in the first quarter, and Democratic campaign officials already have begun quietly talking to other candidates.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan - widely considered the strongest candidate to keep the seat in Democratic hands - told reporters this month that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reached out to her, urging that she put aside her ambition to seek the governorship and run for the Senate instead.

Thus far, the only top Democrat jumping into the race is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, raising more than $1.15 million in the first quarter, but other contenders are said to be biding their time and waiting to see what Mr. Burris does.

Right now, campaign strategists say the Republicans’ strongest potential candidate is U.S. Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, a party moderate who represents a suburban Chicago district.

A Public Policy Polling survey found he would have a strong chance in the heavily Democratic state. It showed him beating Mr. Burris 53 percent to 19 percent, in a dead heat with Mr. Giannoulias at 35 percent each, but running behind Mrs. Madigan 49 percent to 33 percent.

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