ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. conservatives rubbed their hands with glee on Wednesday over news that the Democratic governor of Illinois has been accused of attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.
Federal prosecutors said Obama was not connected to charges on Tuesday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the seat Obama vacated shortly after winning the presidency on November 4 for financial and other benefits for himself and his wife.
But news of his arrest came at a perfect time for conservatives reeling from big losses in November’s congressional and presidential elections that put Obama in line to succeed U.S. President George W. Bush on January 20.
The story’s shock value and explosive quotes from wiretaps by FBI investigators ensure the Blagojevich scandal is something voters will talk about amid questions about possible links between Obama and the governor.
“Folks, this sitcom just gets better and better every day. This is unbelievable! Except that it’s all too believable,” said Rush Limbaugh, a leading conservative U.S. talk radio host.
Obama should escape being tainted by the scandal since he has never been close to Blagojevich, analysts said, and Limbaugh did not accuse Obama of involvement in the alleged crime.
But Limbaugh said it was evidence of Democratic Party corruption.
“Both parties engage in this stuff but corruption is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democrat Party, always has been, always will be,” Limbaugh said on Tuesday.
The issue of Democratic Party corruption is sweet for Republicans, whose party has been rocked by a series of corruption and sex scandals that helped lead to large congressional losses in 2006 and continued with the recent conviction of senior Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
The Republican National Committee accused Obama of making “carefully parsed and vague” statements about contact he and his team have had with Blagojevich and said the president-elect should “immediately disclose any and all communications” with the governor’s office.
“For the last three years, Democratic leaders cheered GOP ethics woes,” said commentator Michelle Malkin on the conservative Townhall blog.
“But with the eye-popping, pay-for-play and bribery case against ... Blagojevich topping a year of nationwide Democratic scandals, the corruption chickens are coming home to roost,” she said.
The Washington Times headlined its story on Blagojevich “Scandal casts cloud over Obama presidency” and many conservative websites and blogs echoed that view.
Blagojevich, 52, and his chief of staff, John Harris, were charged in a federal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. Both were taken into custody at their homes in Chicago.
Talk show host Neal Boortz, who describes himself as a libertarian, headlined an online column about the story “The Gift that Keeps On Giving” because of its potential to revive conservatives.
“Did Barack Obama’s transition team know this was going on? Heck, did Barack Obama himself know this was going on?,” asked Boortz.
But transcripts of wiretapped conversations showed Blagojevich had little respect for Obama and his team. In a conversation with Harris on November 11, the charges state, Blagojevich said he knew the president-elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. them.”
Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown and David Wiessler