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Thursday, May 12, 2005 09:41 pm

GOP targets Lisa Madigan

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State Sen. Lisa Madigan in 2001, announcing her campaign for attorney general
PHOTO BY HEATHER STONE/KRT

Illinois Republican leaders who attended a recent Will County retreat with Karl Rove were a little taken aback when the White House political guru talked excitedly about bringing Vice President Dick Cheney into Illinois to campaign on behalf of the Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general. The race just hasn’t registered on anyone’s political radar to date, so it was a surprise to many that he even knew the office existed.

Defeating an incumbent attorney general is no easy task. The office is essentially a positive-press-release machine. You lock up a few bad guys, sue some corrupt or polluting corporations, help out the senior citizens, and alert consumers to fraud. You have to really be a mope to screw up that gig.

And incumbent Attorney General Lisa Madigan is no mope. It’s no accident that not a single Republican challenger has yet to emerge to challenge the one-term incumbent.

Even some current statewide GOP candidates are hoping that she draws an underfunded nobody. A strong opponent, whomever that might be, would only force her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, to do everything he could to gin up Democratic turnout throughout the state. The Republicans would prefer a depressed Democratic electoral turnout next year, which would give them a much better chance of defeating Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross is about the only one hoping that Lisa Madigan has a tough opponent, because every minute and every dollar that Michael Madigan is forced to spend on his daughter’s race is a minute and a dollar that’s not spent on his House campaigns. It’s generally agreed that Madigan could have won more House races in 2002 were it not for his daughter’s tough race against Joe Birkett.

The U.S. Chamber and other national business groups have a different take, however. They see Lisa Madigan as the next Eliot Spitzer, New York’s fiery and highly successful attorney general who is the odds-on favorite to become that state’s next governor. The business types don’t want Lisa Madigan stepping into Spitzer’s national leadership role, so they’ve committed to spending millions to defeat her.

Big-time money attracts big-time attention. Cue Karl Rove.

Word from on high is that Rove is working on a strategy for the Illinois attorney general’s race that would theoretically benefit all the state’s Republican candidates. Some gubernatorial candidates have been asked to go on the attack against Madigan, but there haven’t been any eager takers to date.

Rove’s ideas may sound counterintuitive, but that’s just the sort of campaigns he runs. Not many predicted, for instance, that Rove would be able to turn presidential candidate John Kerry’s war-hero status into a liability.

All they need now is a decent candidate. Good luck with that.

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