Obama inspires hugs among feuding Illinois pols

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DENVER-Determined to elect favorite son Barack Obama, feuding Illinois Democrats traded hugs Wednesday in a display of campaign unity that left U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. overcome with tears.

DENVER-Determined to elect favorite son Barack Obama, feuding Illinois Democrats traded hugs Wednesday in a display of campaign unity that left U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. overcome with tears. Jackson started the reconciliation effort at the morning meeting of the state’s Democratic National Convention delegation at a downtown hotel. Before Jackson was finished, he had even coaxed Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to hug. The shocked delegation erupted in cheers because the two men can hardly bear to speak to each other or be in the same room. While the various personal and political feuds among Illinois Democrats aren’t likely to hurt Obama’s campaign directly, continued turmoil could limit the usefulness of state officials as surrogates who can visit other states and vouch for Illinois’ junior U.S. senator. Jackson, a national co-chair of Obama’s presidential campaign, used the nearly universal acclaim for Obama within the delegation to argue that Illinois officials must mend fences to help their constituents and the Democratic nominee. "Barack needs Illinoisans to love each other. Then he needs us to leave our front-row seats and go hug Ohio, go hug Michigan, go hug Florida," Jackson said. But the good feelings in Denver may not translate into cooperation when Democrats return to Illinois. "I don’t think today makes much of a difference in where we go from here," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, one of Madigan’s top lieutenants. "It certainly can’t hurt, but I don’t think this is major." Jackson wasn’t making any predictions. "Maybe people will talk to one another. I don’t know," he said. "Right now, I know we don’t do a lot of talking in our state." The hug-a-thon began when Jackson embraced a congressional candidate who has bickered with him over local issues. He hugged U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush next, hoping to put aside ill will over speculation that Jackson was scheming to have his wife replace Rush, who is recovering from cancer. Then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley jumped up to hug Jackson, who has had strained relations with the longtime mayor. At that point, Jackson teared up and turned his back to the audience, his shoulders shaking. Daley hugged Jackson again and whispered in his ear. Jackson, who represents Chicago’s south side and southern suburbs, said later that he was so moved because he’s been trying unsuccessfully for 14 years to work with Daley. He said the mayor has been willing to meet with him only a couple of times in all those years. After Jackson recovered his composure, he put the governor and speaker on the spot. "I am not going to be satisfied until I see Rod Blagojevich give Mike Madigan a hug," he said. After a moment’s hesitation, the two men laughed and hugged. Before Wednesday, the Illinois delegation had hardly been an example of the cooperative problem-solving Obama advocates. Blagojevich was not given a speaking slot at the convention. That would have drawn attention to Blagojevich’s relationship to Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a political insider who raised campaign money for Obama and was recently convicted of federal corruption charges unrelated to Obama. On the first day of the convention, one of Obama’s political mentors, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, was accused of calling a black delegate an "Uncle Tom" for supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Madigan, chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, generally refuses to meet with Blagojevich and has even advised legislative candidates on how to call for Blagojevich’s impeachment. Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn held out hope that the hugs will result in officials – particularly Blagojevich – seeing the value of "putting aside the past and working on things that really make Illinois a better state." Blagojevich said the good feelings were real but perhaps temporary. "I just wonder if it’s the altitude," Blagojevich said, referring to Denver’s thin mountain air. "We’ll find out when we get back home." AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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