They weren’t close

THEY WEREN’T CLOSE…. Yesterday, on MSNBC, Republican Doug Heye, who blogs for The Hill, told viewers that Rod Blagojevich is Barack Obama’s “good friend.” When anchor Tamron Hall challenged Heye to defend the claim, he couldn’t.

There’s a reason for that. We’ve learned this week that Obama, like most high-profile Democrats in Illinois, supported Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaigns. But the new Republican effort to convince people that Obama and the governor are close is demonstrably false.

Like every other politician in Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich waited for Barack Obama’s call this summer. He told colleagues that he expected a speaking role at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, a nice bit of payback for being the first governor to endorse the senator from Illinois in his campaign for president. By showing off a connection to Obama in Denver, Blagojevich hoped to repair his own diminished reputation.

Obama’s campaign made speaking offers to the Illinois treasurer, the comptroller, the attorney general and a Chicago city clerk. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) was asked to introduce Obama on the convention’s final night; Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (Ill.) was told he would speak on television during prime time. Finally, fed up and embarrassed that he still had heard nothing, Blagojevich joked to a crowd at the Illinois State Fair that, yes, he also had been asked to speak — at 4 a.m., in a Denver area men’s bathroom.

Long before federal prosecutors charged Blagojevich with bribery this week, Obama had worked to distance himself from his home-state governor. The two men have not talked for more than a year, colleagues said, save for a requisite handshake at a funeral or public event. Blagojevich rarely campaigned for Obama and never stumped with him. The governor arrived late at the Democratic convention and skipped Obama’s victory-night celebration at Chicago’s Grant Park.

Even though they often occupied the same political space … Obama and Blagojevich never warmed to each other, Illinois politicians said.

We can tell from the criminal complaint that Blagojevich was not fond of Obama — a couple of “mother-bleepers” removed all doubt — and the Washington Post noted that Blagojevich “considered Obama naive and pretentious and dismissed his success as ‘good luck.'” For his part, Obama never had any use for Blagojevich, and disparaged his “combativeness” and “disorganization.” The two began their careers in Chicago, but “Blagojevich and Obama operated on distinct tracks.”

Even when Blagojevich first ran for governor, Obama urged others to challenge him, and ended up supporting one of Blagojevich’s primary rivals. Two years later, Blagojevich never endorsed Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign, and the two didn’t campaign together.

Abner Mikva, a former congressman and appeals court judge, said, “Obama saw this coming, and he was very cautious about not having dealings with the governor for quite some time. The governor was perhaps the only American public officeholder who didn’t speak at the convention, and that wasn’t by accident. He’s politically poisonous. You don’t get through Chicago like Barack Obama did unless you know how to avoid people like that.”

Republican talking points generally include a lot of inane arguments, but insisting that Blagojevich and Obama were close buddies is utterly ridiculous.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.