It's perhaps fitting that the 2010 Illinois primary was held on Groundhog's Day given that the outcome in both parties' gubernatorial races remained uncertain through this morning with the prospect of mutual "do-overs." Acknowledging that neither the Democratic nor Republican Party produced clear winners, and that a number of absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, not the mention the prospect of a "discovery" recount, the balance of this piece will work with the assumption that incumbent Governor Pat Quinn will represent the Democrats this fall against Republican State Senator Bill Brady.
Quinn is currently a little more than 8,000 votes ahead of Comptroller Dan Hynes, who conceded and pledged his support to the incumbent this morning. The incumbent emerges scarred from a brutal two-way brawl marred by negative advertising that arguably had the effect of turning potential voters off entirely. Two weeks ago, Quinn staggered as Hynes brought Harold Washington back from the dead to question his executive competence, but Quinn counterpunched by accusing Dan Hynes of malfeasance in the Burr Oaks Cemetery scandal. The comptroller may have employed with the uppercut one week too soon as the governor appeared to regain his swagger in the final hours of the campaign, enough to cling to power for at least another nine months, as he struck the continual chord of "jobs" alongside a continued barrage of jabs at his opponent.
However, it goes without saying that Quinn is a wounded incumbent in a year where they are ripe for the picking from coast to coast. He barely eked out a majority over an opponent who ran a relatively lethargic campaign, as Democratic primary voters sent a message that Quinn's first year in office was wobbly at best. He has until November to further polish his credentials and restore the luster he carried into an office his two predecessors forever tarnished.
Quinn's strongest trump card may be the fact that his fall opponent is still to be determined. Brady leads fellow State Senator Kirk Dillard by a mere 400 votes, and a recount is probable. This could take weeks or even months, shattering Republican unity and undermining their best shot at the Governor's Mansion in more than a decade.
The six Republican candidates split the vote almost proportionately, with five of them exceeding 14% and Brady leading the pack at 20.3%, a tenth of a percent ahead of Dillard. Brady was the only downstate candidate and benefited from the fact that he owned the Land of Lincoln south of I-80, the Springfield area excepted. Three DuPage County candidates (Dillard, Jim Ryan, and Adam Andrzejewski) and two Chicagoans (Andy McKenna and Dan Proft) fought fiercely on regional turf and diluted one another's support.
The Republican race was characterized by funding shortfalls across the board with the exception of former state party chairman Andy McKenna. A late entrant to the race, he aired clever ads early on, playing off of Rod Blagojevich's ridiculous pompadour as symbolic of Springfield corruption, to raise his statewide profile. With name recognition came a reciprocal rise in the polls, and McKenna then turned on his top challengers, first relegating Ryan to an out-of-the-money fourth place finish and then pivoting to Dillard late in the race when internal polls predicted a late charge.
While McKenna secured only a costly third place show for himself, he sent Ryan into a second political retirement and likely forced Dillard to fight for victory in the courtroom. Meanwhile, Brady built a strong southern turnout operation and vaulted himself unscathed into an apparent below-the-radar, come-from-behind victory, leaving Chicago area residents to ask yesterday in unison, "Who is this guy?"
I'll recuse myself from making a premature November prediction and conclude by lamenting the low voter turnout witnessed statewide on Tuesday. Sure, the early primary date and two inches of snow share partial blame, as the state power brokers recognized the incumbency advantages of mid-winter polling first established to propel the favorite son presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Also in play is the record voter turnout in the fall 2008 election, inflating voter registration lists and making Tuesday's showing appear proportionately small.
I would suggest that the largest factor was a slate of candidates, particularly at the top of the ticket, who failed to inspire and whose nominees have much to prove in the nine-month slog to the general election that lies ahead of this February fog. Haven't we witnessed this before?
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