Will Harry Reid Barricade the Senate Door?

In 2010, the new senator from Illinois will have to face a statewide election to keep the seat. Reid and other Democrat leaders are concerned that the taint of the Blagojevich scandal attached to the selection will be difficult enough to overcome without any additional political baggage carried by certain individuals. Barack Obama was elected in Illinois thanks in part to a weak field, and but also because he was a youthful, charismatic communicator -- the same qualities that carried him to victory in November.

Reid was clearly concerned that none of the three black men under consideration by Blagojevich would be able to follow Obama’s path to statewide victory. How Reid expressed those concerns to Blagojevich will reveal whether, or to what extent, race was a part of the discussion. That tape could eventually prove damaging to Reid’s own reelection prospects in 2010, especially if he mishandles the racially sensitive issue of the Burris appointment.

But electability was clearly on Reid’s mind on December 3, and remains an issue with the appointment of Roland Burris, who has previously lost several statewide primary elections in Illinois and hasn’t won an election since 1990. When Burris announced that he was seeking the appointment, he noted that he did not plan to seek election for a full term in 2010 and simply wanted to be a “caretaker.”

But now he says he plans to seek election in 2010 if his appointment sticks. He isn’t even in the Senate yet but he is already backing out on his promises.

If Burris does seek election in 2010, then the Democrats may face a bitter primary followed by a tough general election fight with Burris as their standard bearer. If he doesn’t run then, the Democrats have created an open seat fight in what may be a tough midterm election year. Neither of those prospects looks appealing to Reid, and leading Democrats who will be seeking to round up the 60-vote filibuster proof majority that eluded them in 2008.

Reid will almost certainly avoid the political catastrophe of a photo showing him or the Capitol Hill police physically blocking Roland Burris from the Senate floor on Tuesday. But Roland Burris is a ticking time bomb that still threatens to explode in the face of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic Party. The only question is when that bomb blows and how much collateral damage it does.