Blagojevich, who under state law has the power to pick a replacement, said Wednesday that senior staff members will begin analyzing the records of people who have expressed interest in the job as well as finding others they think might make a good senator. He declined to say who the staff members are or how many will be involved.
When asked if he would appoint himself, Blagojevich said he's "not interested in the U.S. Senate. I like my job as governor." But when pressed about taking the seat, Blagojevich ignored the question.
Myriad names have been floated in recent months, including Valerie Jarrett, a real estate executive and close Obama adviser, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., whose spokesman stood in the back of the room at Blagojevich's news conference handing out press releases saying Jackson would be "honored and humbled" to replace Obama.
Others mentioned include Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky, as well as Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is close to Obama.
Madigan is considered a top rival to Blagojevich, who has also quarreled with Madigan's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Blagojevich heaped praise on nearly every one mentioned, but refused to name any front-runners and said he hadn't even thought about it yet out of fear he would "jinx" Obama. "The process begins today. The thinking begins today. The search . . . begins today," he said.
What the governor says he's looking for: someone who has many of the Democratic ideals he and Obama share, including expanding health care, creating jobs and cutting taxes for the working class. The governor said he hopes to make a decision by New Year's.
Whoever Blagojevich selects would fill the seat through the end of Obama's term in 2010.
Obama is expected to offer advice. Top Obama aides have said they think it is important it be somebody who has a good chance of winning a statewide race in two years to ensure the seat stays in Democratic hands.
"Obviously, [we are] interested in whatever insights President-elect Obama might have with regard to his thoughts on the subject," Blagojevich said.
As Blagojevich mulls that decision, he also may be forced to call a special election in his old Northwest Side congressional district.
Amid reports that U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel was asked to be Obama's chief of staff, a long line of Democrats interested in running took only minutes to form, including Ald. Thomas Allen (38th) and state Rep. John Fritchey. Deborah Mell, daughter of Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) and Blagojevich's sister-in-law, also expressed interest in replacing Emanuel even though she was just elected to the state House on Tuesday and hasn't been sworn in yet.
Tribune reporter Dan Mihalopoulos contributed.