Thursday, July 9, 2009



Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s much ballyhooed decision to seek reelection, rather than run for either governor or U.S. senator, probably emerged from cold political calculation, and far less sophisticated calculation than many are supposing. It is very difficult to run in any primary against an incumbent officeholder of one’s own party. The last time this was done successfully for statewide office in Illinois was in 1992 when Alan Dixon was defeated in the U.S. Senate primary by Carol Moseley Braun (Remember her? So do I. Too bad.) in the wake of the Anita Hill imbroglio. Before then, the most recent successful attempt at an intra-party coup was Mike Howlett’s 1976 primary defeat of incumbent governor and future felon Dan Walker. Mr. Howlett’s victory was less a product of his own political skill than a product of Richard J. Daley’s pique at Dan Walker for Mr. Walker’s characterizing the behavior of law enforcement at the 1968 Democratic convention as a “police riot” (I wonder how Mr. Walker would have reacted after taking a few spiked tennis balls to the groin, but that is another issue.) and for Mr. Walker’s general incompetence as governor, an office he apparently used as little more than a platform for intoning against the evil Machine and preparing for higher office. Further, once Mr. Howlett carried Daley’s water in the primary, he was promptly thrown under the bus in the general election, running with only perfunctory Machine support and predictably losing to Jim Thompson, the uber-pol who, despite his corruption busting prosecutorial career, became perhaps the archetype of the hermaphroditic Illinois pol who is concerned far less about party labels than about cold, hard cash.

Furthermore, it is even more difficult to run against an incumbent like Pat Quinn (no relation) who, despite his valiant and incessant efforts to give voters a reason to show him the door, is just about brand new, is still in the honeymoon stage, and retains an element of “man on a white horse” status. No one, apparently not even Pat Quinn, is capable of bollixing thing up sufficiently thoroughly and quickly to render him beatable in 2010, especially given the drama surrounding his ascension to the governor’s office and the great press he garners as a Clean Gene anti-Machine guy. However, given Mr. Quinn’s demonstrated incompetence and naivetĂ©, he should be very vulnerable in 2014, if not sooner. So Ms. Madigan’s decision to forego the governor’s race in 2010 is therefore completely understandable.

Lisa Madigan’s decision to forego the Senate race was undoubtedly less easy, as demonstrated by her confidantes’ contention that she decided against running for governor weeks ago but made her announcement only yesterday, after she had decided not to run for the Senate. As I have discussed on numerous occasions in the Pontificator, Ms. Madigan wants to be governor, but who would turn down a Senate seat? There is no doubt she was interested in President Obama’s old seat and probably had a hard time turning down what looked like a relatively easy run for it. But she has a young family (Her kids are one and four years old.), making the Senate commute difficult. The field would have been slightly tougher. For example, I mentioned to a friend of mine last week that, considering that one of the few Kennedys (Chris) who cannot be legitimately accused of being a carpetbagger was in the race, I was surprised that the family name and money were not propelling him to instant front-runner status. Maybe there is something going on here, and more coming up, about which the general public, even the political junkie community, is not aware. Further, given Lisa’s interest in state type issues, perhaps she is one of those politicians who agrees with the sentiment expressed by John Ashcroft (I’m quite sure it was John Ashcroft, but it could have been Kit Bond, who has a very similar resume.), former Missouri governor and senator and Attorney General of the United States (who, incidentally, was born in Chicago), who said

“People who tell you being a senator is better than being governor will lie to you about other things as well.”

If that is the way she feels, Ms. Madigan may have simply determined that her chances for the governor’s office will be better in 2014, when she will be all of 47 years old, than they are in 2010.

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