Will President Barack Obama choose between Pat Quinn or Dan Hynes in the 2010 Illinois Democratic primary for governor?
In the last week, both the New York Times and the Washington Post report that the Obama White House political operation is picking sides in primaries across the country, and -- most notably -- trying to push politically enfeebled New York Governor David Paterson out of his state's primary altogether.
Paterson's job approval rating is hovering at 18% and disapproval at 80%. Ouch.
Here in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn's job approval rating is at 39% and disapproval is at 26%, while 35% have no fixed opinion, according to a recent Chicago Tribune poll.
Quinn is not now in a Paterson-like danger zone.
But with a 39% approval and a 35% "no opinion" Quinn -- who inherited his job after the Illinois legislature ceremoniously booted Rod Blagojevich from office -- must have landed on some political health "watch list" in the White House.
Most informed Illinois political observers -- including the Quinn and Hynes campaigns -- expect, however, Obama to remain neutral.
"Governor Quinn does not expect the President to get involved in this race," said Elizabeth Austin, Communications Director for Quinn's campaign.
The Hynes campaign agrees but leaves the door ajar.
"Dan has tremendous regard for the President, and wouldn't dare put any expectation to him regarding the campaign," said Matt McGrath, Hynes' Communications Director. "Dan would be honored to earn and accept his support, just as he's earning support from people all across Illinois."
State Senator and Evanston Township Democratic Committeeman Jeff Schoenberg says Obama will not butt in.
"The White House obviously showed great interest in an alternative to a [Alexi] Giannoulias U.S. Senate candidacy through its public courtship of Attorney General [Lisa] Madigan, but that's the extent to what we've seen here in Illinois. So, no, I don't expect any White House play in the Quinn-Hynes primary race."
More colorfully, political communications strategist Thom Serafin of Serafin & Associates says:
Home state primaries are like offering an opinion of your sister's new boyfriend from 'Mars.' It's very hard to escape damage of some sort when you get involved ... in a home state primary.
Dan Hynes has made a point of being a friend since the D[emocratic] Senate primary; and Pat Quinn has been a friend and colleague for many years with his guys as well as the President. So I do not expect them to get involved.
In fact, in 1990, Quinn was elected Illinois state treasurer with presidential adviser David Axelrod's help.
Political strategist Kevin Lampe, executive vice president at the political consulting firm Kurth-Lampe, also expects the President to take a pass in the Quinn-Hynes slugfest.
"It would be nice if Quinn got the endorsement, but I don't think he expects it or is reliant on it, " said Lampe.
"I think Quinn is very interesting," Lampe added. "He has got endorsements from a variety of players from the Cook County Democratic Organization to Jan Schakowsky."
But what if Hynes begins to bloody Quinn in the weeks to come and pushes that 35% of general election voters who currently have "no opinion" of Quinn to the disapproval category. What then?
Will the White House attempt to show Quinn the door à la Paterson?
Again -- perhaps.
But if Hynes were to follow that route -- savaging Quinn in general election voter eyes -- he would need to act fast before petitions are filed on Nov. 2, 2009. And would he need to calculate carefully how many Democratic primary voters might thank him with their votes. Risky.
Meanwhile, as long as Quinn's 29% disapproval rating -- somewhat remarkably and thankfully low for a governor who is pushing a 50% income tax increase -- remains relatively steady, President Obama is unlikely to back Hynes.
But if conditions change, the Hynes campaign is ready.
"We will make sure absentee ballots are made available to the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, in any event," said McGrath of the Hynes campaign.
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