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The Blagojevich Fallout

I’d been hearing more and more rumors Blago wasn’t going to survive his term, but nobody saw this coming:

CHICAGO — Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday morning on corruption charges, including an allegation that he conspired to effectively sell President-elect Barack Obama’s seat in the United States Senate to the highest bidder.

Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, called his sole authority to name Mr. Obama’s successor “golden,” and he sought to parlay it into a job as an ambassador or secretary of Health and Human Services, or a high-paying position at a nonprofit or an organization connected to labor unions, prosecutors said.

He also suggested, they said, that in exchange for the Senate appointment, his wife could be placed on corporate boards where she might earn as much as $150,000 a year, and he tried to gain promises of money for his campaign fund.

If Mr. Blagojevich could not secure a deal to his liking, prosecutors said, he was willing to appoint himself.

“If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” the governor said in recorded conversation, prosecutors said.

Just despicable. What else can you say? This is an absolutely radioactive, Hurricane-force event that will have implications in Illinois for years to come.

We saw in LA-2 this weekend about what can happen to Democrats in instances of extreme corruption, even in very blue regions of the country. This case is a little different, in that the person who is responsible for the corruption isn’t running for re-election (although Blagojevich hasn’t yet declared himself out of the running for 2010!). On the other hand, the scope and the sheer drama of the corruption — if the charges are validated — is of greater magnitude than we saw in the Jefferson case, and odds are that at least one or two prominent Illinois politicians will get caught having done something less than above-board.

The Republicans are extremely disorganized in Illinois, but both the governor’s seat and Obama’s senate seat now need to be considered viable pickup opportunities for them in 2010. The Republican with the strongest statewide brand name is former senator Peter Fitzgerald, who retired from the Senate in 2004. With that said, the Democrats have several rising stars of their own, such as Alexi Giannoulias, Jan Schakowsky, Lisa Madigan, and Luis Guiterrez, all of whom have pretty clean reputations.

And then there is the question of what happens with Barack Obama’s senate seat in the meantime. I don’t see how it can possibly be acceptable for Blagojevich to have any say in naming Obama’s successor, but elections law isn’t set up to deal with situations as bizarre as these.

The ultimate judge and jury of senate appointments, we should remember, is the Senate itself, which has the Constitutional authority to decide who it seats in its chamber. There might be some precedent in the New Hampshire senate race of 1974, when the winner of the race remained unresolved after several recounts, and the Senate declared the seat vacant and than mandated a special election. Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior senator, is also calling for a special election. Alternatively, the Senate could simply wait until Blagojevich resigns or is impeached before accepting a replacement to be named by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.