Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is close to getting company in the Illinois Senate race. I’m not talking about Chris Kennedy, Lisa Madigan, Mark Kirk or even Roland Burris; rather, the second politician to take an official step towards a bid is Cheryle R. Jackson, the head of the Chicago Urban League.
Today, Jackson announced that she will form an exploratory committee by the end of the week. While that does not guarantee that she’ll end up joining the race, it is a clear sign of intent that guarantees Jackson will now be part of any discussion of this Senate contest.
Provided that Madigan does not enter the race - her candidacy is looking more plausible than was expected - the Democratic primary will be wide open and Jackson would be a strong candidate. She might have no campaign experience, but her resume (her years at top executive positions at NPR, Amtrak and the Urban League) should make a highly credible candidate - not to mention a good fundraiser.
Now that Rep. Danny Davis is positioning himself to run for Cook County Board President rather than for Senator, Jackson could very well emerge as the only African-American in a position to win any of the 2010 Senate races. Since this election concerns the seat currently held by Roland Burris, that would also make Jackson the only hope for the Senate to still have a black Senator come January 2011 (not that one is a particularly impressive number to begin with).
That might not guarantee Jackson the nomination, but such considerations should help her bid. Indeed, Giannoulias and Kennedy are expected to get substantial establishment support so for other candidates (but Madigan) to immerse themselves will likely require them to run an insurgent campaign. As such, potentially being the only African-American and the only woman in the race could help Jackson.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether this is the campaign strategy Jackson should adopt. While Schakowsky’s left-leaning and union-friendly politics would have ensured her labor endorsements and made her the liberal base’s candidate, Jackson’s business background (she sits on the board of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce) could make it more difficult for her to take such a route - though her years heading the Chicago Urban League make her a prominent civil rights leader.
Perhaps most problematically, Jackson could be weighed down by her years serving in the Rod Blagojevich’s administration; she was deputy chief of staff of communications until October 2006, a time at ethical troubles had already started for Blagojevich. We’ll have to see how much voters are willing to overlook Blago connections, and whether Jackson’s rivals would even be willing to bring this up.
Meanwhile, Republicans keep jumping in the Governor’s race
In my latest “weekly update,” you might have noticed that the Republican primary for the gubernatorial race is getting crowded. There are now four Republicans running: state Senator Bill Bradly, state Senator Matt Murphy, consultant Dan Proft and DuPage Co. Board chairman Bob Schillerstrom. State Senator Kirk Dillard also recently expressed his interest.
What is going on? How can a race that Democrats are heavily favored to win - whether Pat Quinn coasts to the nomination or whether Lisa Madigan jumps in - attract so many Republicans? And could this result in a GOP takeover of Springfield?
For one, all three of the state Senators listed in the above list are not up for re-election until 2012. As such, they do not have to give up anything to run for Governor next year, so a statewide candidacy could be a good way for them to increase their profile without risking their career, thus preparing themselves for future contests.
If the eventual nominee has some fundraising success and emerges as a strong presence, it’s certainly not impossible that the GOP might mount a competitive race - especially if the Blagojevich scandal continues to float on state politics (after all, the former Governor might face a trial in 2010, putting the story back in the news) - though let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Illinois remains a staunchly Democratic state, especially now that we have entered the Obama era.
Furthermore, this abundance of candidates might signal that state Republicans don’t believe it’s likely that Mark Kirk will jump in. The moderate representative, last seen voting in favor of the Waxman-Markey Act, is generally described as the GOP’s best hope of winning a statewide race; he remains publicly undecided about his 2010 plans, having ruled out none of his three options - running for the House, for Senate and for Governor. Given that any of these Republicans would be underdogs against Kirk, would they not wait for him to clarify his intentions if they thought it plausible that he might run for Governor?
I was going to add that the fact that no Republicans has jumped in the Senate race signals that Kirk is seriously considering that race, but I quickly realized that is not necessarily the case. If these state Senators mount a federal campaign, they won’t be able to use their current campaign funds and they won’t be able to transfer eventual leftover contributions to their statewide run back to their state account. That would surely defeat some of the purpose of mounting these long shot campaigns. (As we discussed before, Madigan has her own version of this dilemma.)