Obama seen untouched by Illinois governor charges

CHICAGO Tue Dec 9, 2008 7:38pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama's decision to keep a distance from his state's governor, who was arrested on corruption charges on Tuesday, should enable him to escape becoming tainted by the scandal, analysts said.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands accused of trying to sell the president-elect's vacant U.S. Senate seat for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife, among other charges.

"Obama is not related to the corruption pattern in Chicago," said political scientist Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois in Chicago. "He has not been pressing for any person to replace him in his Senate seat."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, announcing the charges, also said Obama was in no way implicated.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, left the Senate soon after winning the November 4 presidential election. As governor, Blagojevich, a Democrat, has sole authority to announce a replacement to serve the remaining two years of Obama's term.

Obama told reporters he was "saddened and sobered."

"I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. As I said, it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don't think it's appropriate to comment," he said.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod had said on November 23 in an interview with Fox News Chicago that Obama had "talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

Axelrod issued a brief written statement on Tuesday saying he had been wrong.

"I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the president-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then or at any time discuss the subject," Axelrod said.

Relations between Obama and Blagojevich had long been tense, with Obama pointedly not including his own governor in campaign events. That should help Obama, analysts said.

"Obama had the good sense to stay far, far away from Blagojevich and all of his people," said Democratic consultant Dane Strother.

"You never saw Blagojevich in Obama's camp, you never saw his name during the campaign. Obama's people were plenty smart enough to stay way away from Blagojevich and all the people around Blagojevich," he said.

Jay Stewart, director of the Better Government Association, a Chicago watchdog group, agreed: "This is all about Rod, it's not about the president-elect," he said.

REPUBLICAN VIEWPOINT

Still, Republicans tried to make political hay from the scandal. The Republican National Committee issued a statement saying Obama had advised and supported Blagojevich's 2006 re-election, four years after he became the first Democratic governor of Illinois in nearly 30 years.

"Given the President-elect's history of supporting and advising Gov. Blagojevich, he has a responsibility to speak out and fully address the issue," said RNC chairman Mike Duncan.

Another connection is Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer and one-time fund-raiser for both men. Obama severed ties with Rezko, who was found guilty of corruption earlier this year, but their relationship caused him some embarrassment during the presidential election campaign.

"I don't think that this is going to impact one iota on Barack Obama," said Democratic strategist Doug Schoen. "Given the nature of the problems we're facing in the country, this has no relevance. No impact."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, editing by David Alexander and Alan Elsner)

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