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Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 12:58 pm

Speaker Madigan acts like he’s running scared

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House Speaker Michael Madigan
PHOTO BY CHICAGO PUBLIC MEDIA

The race for governor appears to be seriously tightening. The U.S. Senate race has been close all along. Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White, both Democrats, are surely heading for big wins next month.

But Republicans are doing quite well in congressional and state legislative races pretty much all over Illinois except in the “bluest” of the blue regions in and near Chicago. Down-ballot Democratic incumbents are running scared all over the place.

And if you want to see how truly weird this election year is, then head on over to House Speaker Madigan’s Southwest Side Chicago district. Madigan has sent five campaign mailers to his constituents over the past several days.

The last time Madigan spent even a few dollars on his own election was six years ago, when he beat his hapless Republican opponent with almost 80 percent of the vote. Two years ago, without spending a dime, he won by even more.

Madigan has told his House Democratic members, including many of his “safe” members, that they’d better not take anything for granted this year. He’s apparently taking his own advice.

Madigan has been whacked several times recently by the Chicago Tribune, including a high-profile column mocking him for hand-picking a no-show Republican opponent. The Tribune has connected him to the University of Illinois admissions scandal. The paper published a story about how he’s done various favors in the property business, and they just wrote a convoluted and not so solid piece about the FBI looking into how a town in Madigan’s district picked an attorney based on his recommendation.

But to give you an idea of how truly strange Madigan’s reaction is, the longtime House Speaker’s personal direct mail program is pretty much on par with what’s being done for Madigan’s most politically vulnerable Democratic incumbents. As of last week, five pieces in the mailboxes with more than three weeks still to go represents a very significant effort. “It’s a lot of [expletive deleted] money,” deadpanned one person who is heavily involved with legislative mail programs.

Madigan is indeed concerned about the “slop from the Tribune,” according to his spokesman. So far, however, none of his mailers have addressed the accusations leveled by the city newspaper. Instead, one has talked about saving American jobs, another has played up his role in impeaching former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, one was about how he’d helped senior citizens, one targeted the evil bankers and another was about his work against sex offenders.

The Speaker has been putting “the fear” into traditional Democratic campaign contributors lately about how he might not be able to hold the House, but a longtime friend of Madigan’s insisted last week that the longest-serving House Speaker in the state’s history is just clanging the alarm bells as hard as he can in order to raise more money. Whatever he’s doing, he doesn’t appear to be taking any chances anywhere, including in his own backyard.

Madigan’s 13th Ward organization is also pumping out large numbers of absentee voter applications. A new law is in effect this year which doesn’t require any reasons for voting absentee. In the past, some ward and township organizations have found themselves in hot water over stretching the reasoning for absentee applications. Before, you were supposed to be leaving town, or in the hospital or something. Now, voters don’t need to say why they want to vote absentee, so Machine wards like Madigan’s have gone back to the old ways. The statewide Democratic campaigns, of course, are thrilled with this because they need to jack up the city’s vote as much as possible to override what looks like a looming Downstate bloodbath. 

The Republicans raised about $3,000 at a recent downtown “fundraiser” for Madigan’s ghost opponent, and a GOP operative joked last week that since Madigan was actually taking his race seriously they might spend that cash on yard signs. Reminded that he’d be hard-pressed to find any locations for those signs, he said they may be able to find some willing homeowners in suburban Burr Ridge, on the far western end of Madigan’s district. Good luck with that.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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