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Bill Daley and the Next Race for Governor of Illinois

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In their youth, basketball was the favorite sport of some of Chicago's best known politicians, including Barack Obama, Rod Blagojevich and Richard M. Daley. It is unclear whether White House chief of staff Bill Daley possessed the same love of the game as these elected politicos, but it does seem as if he has perfected an important basketball skill: the head fake, a misdirection technique designed to keep your opponent off balance.

Earlier this month, Daley announced that he would serve as President Obama's chief of staff until November 2012 and then would return home to Chicago. When asked if he had plans to run for elected office upon his return, Daley chuckled and responded with a smile, "I have no plans. The beauty of this job, to be very frank with you, is that it's probably the only job I've ever had that I have not thought about what's next."

A Chicago head fake, beautifully executed.

Of course, some seasoned political observers may rightly recall that Bill Daley has a history of considering running for political office, but has always pulled back. In 1989, he seriously contemplated running for mayor of Chicago, but changed his mind when his older brother Rich told him that he planned to run again. In 2001, Bill Daley weighed his chances of becoming the Democratic candidate for Governor of Illinois, but withdrew his name from the race when Alderman Dick Mell -- Rod Blagojevich's father-in-law -- threatened to "dirty up" Daley in the media if he ran. So some may argue that the youngest Daley brother has had his chance to run for office and that those days are now behind him.

But the next race for governor of Illinois will present Bill Daley a different political calculus than he has faced in the past, and there are at least three reasons why he may choose to run after he returns to Chicago.

First, for the only time in 22 years, his older brother Rich is not mayor of Chicago. This will remove the stigma of one family having too much political control. Bill Daley can run as his own man and let the voters decide.

Second, Daley has nothing left to prove in his other chosen professions. He has had great success as a government official, political consigliore and businessman. A resume which includes U.S. Secretary of Commerce, White House chief of staff and Vice Chairman and member of the executive committee at JPMorgan Chase does not need any more bulking up. Daley is an ambitious man and winning elective office is one of his few life goals that he has yet to accomplish.

Finally, Daley has a good chance of winning the next race for governor of Illinois. Pat Quinn, the current governor, has a dismal approval rating of 30% and sixty percent of Illinois voters disapprove of his performance. Quinn is a nice man, but lacks the necessary leadership strength to govern. Illinois needs a more effective chief executive in order to begin working its way out of it unsustainable budget deficits and outrageous pension liabilities. There is a very low probability that Quinn will be re-elected as governor.

This political vacuum will present Daley with the opportunity to challenge Quinn to become the Democratic candidate. Daley has the fundraising expertise, political savvy and connections to win the primary. Daley would also stack up well against the likely Republican opponents he might face in the general election. His corporate experience and moderate social views would make him an attractive candidate for both business executives and middle-of-the-road voters.
So local voters who love the game of politics may soon get to enjoy another good performance. Let's keep our eyes on the sidelines and watch to see who is suiting up. There may be a Daley soon entering the game.