11/03/2010 01:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pat Quinn Has Scott Lee Cohen To Thank For Survival In Governor's Race

Bill Brady has announced that he won't concede the Illinois governor's race any time soon. But with incumbent governor Pat Quinn holding an 8,000-vote lead, and much of the uncounted vote in strongly Democratic Cook County, Quinn looks to be in good shape going forward.

The result flies in the face of what many observers had predicted, especially given that the Democrat for U.S. Senate, Alexi Giannoulias, lost by 82,000 votes. How did Pat Quinn so outperform his Senatorial counterpart?

Astonishingly enough, the answer may be Scott Lee Cohen, the one-time lieutenant governor candidate who spelled disaster for Democrats just nine months ago.

Cohen, a pawn-shop owner, surprised the political establishment by winning the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. In the days that followed, a torrent of nasty reports about Cohen surfaced, including that he abused steroids, was rough with his wife during their unpleasant divorce, and threatened an ex-girlfriend with a knife to her throat. On Super Bowl Sunday, Cohen held a "press conference" at a bar with his wife and children, announcing his departure from the Democratic ticket, leaving Quinn to pick Sheila Simon as his replacement running mate.

But then, less than three months later, Cohen was back, this time running for Governor as an independent. Through a process marred with allegations of misconduct, he was able to collect the requisite petition signatures to make the ballot.

In doing so, it looks like he may have saved the political career of his old running mate Quinn.

The results from Cook County explain just how powerful the SLC factor was. Pat Quinn and Alexi Giannoulias got almost exactly the same number of votes in the Democratic stronghold, home to Chicago and some suburban areas: Quinn won 866,000, and Alexi won 863,000.

Green Party candidates won 33,000 votes in each race. The Libertarian for Senate, Mike Labno, won 20,000 votes, while his gubernatorial counterpart Lex Green won 10,000.

So, you'd expect Republicans Mark Kirk and Bill Brady to have roughly the same vote totals too, right? If anything, Brady should do a bit better than Kirk, since Giannoulias did worse and the Libertarian Labno should have taken more votes from Kirk, too.

Well, in fact, Brady won around 30,000 fewer votes than Mark Kirk in Cook County. The clear difference in the race is Scott Lee Cohen, who took 50,000 Cook votes.

The numbers make good sense in context. Cook is a heavily Democratic area, but the two Democratic candidates were both quite unpopular. Many voters probably wanted to file a protest vote against Quinn and Giannoulias. In the Senate race, they may have found the Green and Libertarians too out-there to vote for, and gone with Republican Kirk. But in the governor's race, Cohen had spent millions of his own money -- primarily in Chicago -- portraying himself as a political outsider who was fighting for jobs.

In so doing, he probably took a good deal of the protest vote from Brady. Those 30,000 votes that Kirk got and Brady didn't would have clearly made the difference in the Governor's race.

Instead, barring some big surprises, Kirk's going to Washington, Quinn could be staying in Springfield, and Brady could be going back to his construction business in Bloomington.