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Kwame Raoul could go for Senate

Kwame Raoul

Kwame Raoul

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Updated: January 17, 2014 6:14AM

Kwame Raoul for the U.S. Senate? Why not? He’s looked at everything else.

Seriously, State Sen. Kwame Raoul could be a formidable challenger to Mark Kirk in the 2016 Illinois U.S. Senate election. That’s three years away, but in politics, there’s no such thing as early.

The political classes are loath to note Kirk’s vulnerabilities, as he is still recovering from a devastating stroke. Kirk is respected. Yet, some whisper, he could still be taken on in a blue state like Illinois.

Raoul, 49, is methodically, doggedly building a reputation as a smart legislator with a keen policy edge. As chief of the Illinois General Assembly’s pension committee, he can claim credit for moving the state’s finances away from the edge of disaster.

In the last six months, the hyper-ambitious South Side politician has hankered for three statewide offices. He mulled a run for Illinois attorney general until Lisa Madigan decided to stay put. He mulled a challenge to Gov. Pat Quinn over the summer, then played lieutenant-governor-in-waiting. Quinn chose educator Paul Vallas instead.

It wasn’t the right time. Raoul’s ego got ahead of reality, then lost its way. Consider this: Raoul considered taking on Quinn, then attacked him, then actually expected that the governor might tap him as his running mate.

Still, Raoul’s political dalliances offer promise. When Raoul was appointed to Barack Obama’s old state Senate seat in 2004, he avoided the comparisons to the Big O. But the ties are priceless. Raoul, of Haitian descent, is a lifelong resident of Hyde Park-Kenwood, which has produced an array of big-time officeholders. The wonky lawyer dug into the policy weeds of Springfield. He led the thorny Senate redistricting committee, and his chairmanship of the pension conference committee helped lay the foundation for the long-awaited pension reform.

He allies with legislators across racial and political lines. Like Obama, he has insinuated himself with the legislative power base, like Democratic state Senate President John Cullerton and Tom Cross, the former House Republican Leader. Raoul is an astute fund-raiser, tapping into Haitian and legal networks.

When I wrote he wasn’t ready for governor, he was insulted. Oh, well.

Now, Raoul has the time and gumption to build to a Senate run. He is positioned to be Illinois’ leading black politician, and chief beneficiary of African-American voting clout.

Illinois has been hospitable to black senatorial bids, electing Carol Moseley Braun and Obama. Voters hunger for a new generation of black leadership. Chicago’s senior African-American congressmen sit on the cusp of retirement. Black voters despaired over the political promise that dissolved in scandal and controversy. Jesse Jackson Jr., Mel Reynolds, Braun and the erstwhile Roland Burris.

Raoul should check his thin-skinned ways, and curb a tendency to shoot off unnecessary barbs at the powerful people he’ll need down the road.

Even if he grabs the Senate ring and loses, Kwame Raoul will solidify his status as a political comer for the next open congressional seat, or perhaps a future attorney general slot.

Let’s see how Raoul rolls.


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