BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's surprise announcement in September that she would not seek re-election in 2018 set off a mad dash of Democrats entering the race but — so far — Republicans have stood pat behind their only declared candidate, Erika Harold.
That's a good move by the Illinois GOP, according to long-time political observer Bob Bradley, emeritus professor of political science at Illinois State University.
“I think the Republicans are doing something very savvy by not making it a multi-candidate race,” said Bradley.
However, John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University sees some positives to the large Democratic field — one of them being a chance for a largely unknown field to make itself better known.
“Ordinarily, you don't like a deeply divided primary,” said Jackson. “But if you can use that as a springboard to raise money and raise your name identification, that will help.”
Democrats who have announced their candidacy include former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Rep. Scott Drury, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, Chicago Park District President Jesse Ruiz, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, former assistant U.S. attorney Renato Mariotti and Sharon Fairley, former chief administrator of Chicago's Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Although the number of candidates could divide the party, Jackson said, it's also a good sign.
“The race on the Democratic side shows the party has got a lot of 'bench strength' in Illinois,” said Jackson. “That the opposite of what's true nationally or in most states.”
Bradley doesn't sense much excitement in either party for Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner or his leading Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker. But the attorney general's race could be different.
“It's going to to generate a fair amount of enthusiasm that you probably won't get from the governor's race,” said Bradley. “This race could really energize the electorate.”
Madigan has been attorney general since January 2003, narrowly defeating Joe Birkett. Since then, she has been re-elected three times with at least 60 percent of the vote.
George Gordon, a McLean County Democratic precinct committeeman and retired ISU political science professor, said, “Her successor will have a lot to live up to.”
Chuck Erickson, McLean County Republican chairman, said he doesn't expect any other Republicans to enter the race.
“I would strongly expect that everyone is rallying around Erika,” he said. “She has support from the base to the top.”
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon, who had been considering a run for the Republican nomination, threw his support behind Harold on Wednesday.
Jackson said having an opponent in the primary could help raise the profile of Harold, who isn't well known outside of the congressional district where she challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in the Republican primary in 2014.
Having Madigan bow out benefits Republicans, Erickson said, “because it evens the playing field.”
Dorothy Deany, co-chair of the McLean County Democratic Party, said there will be a clearer picture once the filing period begins in December. If the field remains large, she is concerned that people will have difficulty learning who everyone is. She hopes there will be debates or forums to help.
“Many voters will probably be focused on the governor's race,” she said. “But the attorney general will have an impact on them whether they realize it or not.”
Quinn benefits from high name recognition and a record of involvement in consumer and environmental protection, said Bradley.
However, he said, “His drawback is the most recent thing people will remember is his time as governor.”
Jackson said Quinn has to be considered a front-runner at this point, although “he's got baggage” and the most recent poll he saw put Quinn's support at only 28 percent.
“It all depends on the campaign he runs,” said Jackson. “He's never been a great fundraiser.”
Erickson was “shocked” by Madigan's decision not to run but added, “I don't think she's getting out of politics. I think she's just taking a sabbatical before her next run for office.”
Bradley thinks there are a number of reasons why Madigan decided not to seek re-election.
With two daughters to put through college, she could be considering the higher salary she could get in the private sector, Bradley suggested.
“She may be setting herself up for a Senate run” amid speculation that fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin might not run again, he said.
The unpopularity of her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan, also could be a factor, according to Bradley.
“I think she might be tired and sees the writing on the wall that her brand was going to be hurt,” said Bradley, describing Mike Madigan as the most or second most hated politician in Illinois.