More than a month after becoming a national laughingstock, with his clumsy and colorful alleged attempts to sell a Senate seat, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is surviving -- but his luck may finally be running out.
The Illinois House is set today to vote on impeaching the embattled governor. It would be the first time in Illinois state history that a governor was impeached. If the House approves, the state Senate will conduct a trial.
He has resisted calls for his resignation. He has continued to perform his gubernatorial duties, even in the face of widespread public scorn.
He has so far ducked both impeachment and indictment, with some legal experts saying it will be difficult for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to mount an effective case against him.
His latest coup came on the national stage: Outfoxing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President-elect Barack Obama, by placing his choice for Obama's old Senate seat on a path toward being sworn in.
At a moment he was written off as politically impotent, on a path to near-certain disgrace, Blagojevich navigated complex racial politics by choosing Roland Burris -- a veteran African-American official with a far cleaner reputation than the governor himself -- to take Obama's place in the Senate.
"This is a 10-round battle, and thus far, Blagojevich is ahead on points," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic strategist. "He embarrassed Harry Reid and Dick Durbin. Who's smarter -- the guy from Illinois who's allegedly a crook, or the guys in Washington who are allegedly clean?"
Most observers still expect things to turn out badly for Blagojevich. A legislative committee Thursday recommended that he be impeached, and most political observers say he'll almost certainly be removed from office in the coming weeks or months, to say nothing of the legal battles he still faces.
While the seating of Burris as senator would mark a personal triumph, it would also be likely to refocus attention on Blagojevich's own alleged misdeeds instead of on the Washington standoff over a Senate seat.
Still, the turn of events has left even some prominent Democrats marveling at Blagojevich's political survival skills.
"You gotta hand it to Blagojevich," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday on MSNBC. "What a maneuver! What a maneuver! When his back was against the wall he outsmarted a lot of people. … He'll probably end up in really bad trouble, but he'll have something to tell his grandchildren."
Against long odds, Blagojevich has held on by managing to look like the reasonable party in a dispute Democratic leaders didn't want to have.
"It's like two casino sharks taking over a church basement bingo game being run by some little old ladies. It was a total mismatch," said Kevin Madden, a Republican political operative based in Washington. "That doesn't mean that Blago has miraculously removed himself from legal jeopardy. But he managed to rearrange the chess board."
Blagojevich signaled an aggressive posture from the start. Unlike former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned within days of the public revelation of a sex scandal last year, Blagojevich refused to leave office despite the shocking allegations of a pay-to-play scheme regarding the open Senate seat he had the power to fill.