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Thursday, March 29, 2012 10:15 am

A lackluster performance by Madigan’s candidate

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Sue Scherer
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUE SCHERER’S CAMPAIGN
Winston Taylor
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE
Sam Cahnman
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE
The machine is dead. Long live the machine.

So went the mixed messages voters sent in last week’s primary elections.

Some things went as expected, notably the 50th Senate District race between incumbent Sam McCann of Carlinville and Gray Noll of Springfield, who got crushed in the Republican contest. No Democrat has filed and, given the strong showing by McCann who had the most money and backing from three GOP congressmen, it appears that he will stay in the Senate, leaving Sangamon County with no senator in the General Assembly.

Then again, there is the newly created 96th House District, where Republican Dennis Shackelford will apparently face off against Sue Scherer, who barely won the Democratic primary despite big money from House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Scherer, a Decatur schoolteacher, followed the script, avoiding the media and ducking candidate forums while Madigan’s operatives mailed hit pieces.  With absentee ballots yet to be tallied, she finished ahead of Winston Taylor of Decatur, also a political newcomer, by less than 100 votes on election night. If Sam Cahnman, whose political future appears dark after finishing a distant third, hadn’t split the anti-Madigan backlash, Scherer might well be on the sidelines. Her days of skipped forums and interviews via email are likely over.

“It was a pretty lackluster performance by the person the speaker was backing,” says Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political studies at University of Illinois Springfield, who predicts the fall race could become a $1 million affair. “She’s going to have to show an awful lot before the general election.”

While Scherer can get money from both the party and teachers, Shackelford, who owns gift stores in Springfield and Taylorville, can paint her as beholden to the Madigan machine.

“The way the race played out, it really did kind of tee that up for Shackelford,” Redfield said. “There will be moderates and independents who will be sensitive to claims she’s not independent. This is a competitive district. I think (House Republican leader Tom) Cross has to look very seriously at this district and putting money into it.”

In Sangamon County, Cinda Edwards prevailed in the Republican primary for Sangamon County coroner, but it was hardly a resounding victory over Tom Shafer, a gun-rights activist and failed candidate in previous campaigns for Sangamon County Board, the Lincoln Land Community College board of trustees and the Springfield school board.  He got 43 percent of the vote running against the wife of a Springfield alderman.

“I would view that more as a protest vote,” Redfield said. “Obviously, Cinda Edwards had money and endorsements. There certainly is a backlash there against the insider nature of Sangamon County Republican candidates.”

Jim Moody, outgoing chairman of the county Democratic Party, said the coroner’s race was closer than he expected.

“That tells me that there’s a lot of people that aren’t that confident in Cinda Edwards,” Moody said.

Democrats can appoint candidates to run in the fall in races where Republicans have no opposition, and Moody said he expects to see Democrats appointed to run against Edwards and Sangamon County circuit clerk Tony Libri, who had no Republican opponent in the primary.

In the newly created 13th Congressional District, Matt Goetten had endorsements from U.S.  Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Springfield, seven state’s attorneys, four sheriffs and four county party committees but nonetheless apparently lost – absentees are still being tallied – to David Gill in the Democratic primary.

Chris Mooney, a University of Illinois Springfield political science professor, said that Gill’s apparent victory bodes well for U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, who has defeated the Bloomington physician in three prior congressional elections.

“The national Democratic Party was looking at this as a potential pick-up,” Mooney said. “It doesn’t look like it will happen now.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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