WASHINGTON -- As Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan nears a decision on whether to run for governor or senator or to stay put, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Thursday called her "the most popular political figure in Illinois."
I asked Emanuel about Madigan's June 12 visit to the White House during a breakfast Thursday with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
(Emanuel's wide ranging session transcript courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)
The Obama White House is encouraging Madigan to run for the Senate and not for governor, her original interest.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is recruiting Madigan, worried that the Blagojevich scandals and the weak performance of and controversy around Sen. Roland Burris have put in peril the Democratic grip on the Illinois seat once held by President Obama.
However, the White House is not, as it is in the New York Senate contest, overtly clearing the Democratic primary field of challengers for Madigan. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, an Obama protege, is in the Senate race; Burris may be; Merchandise Mart mogul Chris Kennedy is organizing a run, and if Madigan does not get in, there may be another female candidate.
Madigan is not getting the boost the White House is giving Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.
Emanuel said he gave a heads-up to Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) -- who had wanted to challenge Gillibrand in a primary -- that the White House was going to intervene on behalf of Gillibrand.
"If other people wanna run, they can," Emanuel recalled saying. Still, he was helping clear the field. Emanuel said he told Israel, "I said upfront, we're gonna be involved in the race."
Madigan actually had two meetings with old Chicago friends while at the White House: one with Obama in the Oval Office and another with Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. I asked Emanuel who called the meeting, and he said he could not remember.
"You know that Lisa was a seatmate of the president's when he was a state senator. She's the most popular political figure in Illinois. And she's weighing a judgment on what she wants to do in her career," Emanuel said.
"She would be -- it goes without saying, she would be a formidable candidate. She's the most popular figure in the state of Illinois . . . there's no doubt by any -- by even people who are in the race, in the primary, people who are thinking about it, they all know, she's the 800-pound gorilla here, because of how popular she is and how good a job she's done as the attorney general."
So does he think Madigan should run for the Senate?
Said Emanuel: "That's for Lisa to make that decision."