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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 12:16 am

Madigan ignored his own unpopularity

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
“Do you think he knows what he’s doing?” asked a top Republican last week about House Speaker Michael Madigan’s high-profile role at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Madigan heaped public praise last week on at least two potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chris Kennedy. And he mentioned U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth by name as his state’s next U.S. Senator during Tuesday’s presidential nomination roll call, which was broadcast throughout the country.

That may all seem like the usual national convention duties for a state Democratic Party chairman like Madigan, and it is. But Speaker Madigan’s poll numbers are so darned awful that the Republicans believe anyone he publicly “touches” is hugely tainted. A recent Republican-sponsored poll found that Madigan’s favorability rating was just 13 percent.

“He should keep doing what he’s doing,” cracked one Republican campaign type, who said he was carefully making notes of Madigan’s public utterances.

As is often the case, the two political parties exist in parallel universes. Yes, the Democrats say, Madigan polls poorly. But they don’t believe that voters will make up their minds about individual races based on that one “issue” alone. And some are even saying they’re pleased that the Republicans are “wasting” their money on a strategy that the Democrats believe won’t work.

Indeed, the Republicans spent tons of money during several election cycles attempting to tie the fabulously unpopular and currently incarcerated Rod Blagojevich to Democrats, and it only worked once, against Rep. Jay Hoffman in a newly drawn district with lots of unfamiliar voters. And they’ve been blasting away at Madigan for years without any discernible impact at the polls.

Even so, if there was another high-profile Illinois Democrat out there whose favorability rating was hovering around 13 percent, you can be certain that Madigan and his people would mandate that their candidates and incumbents stay as far away from that person as humanly possible. Heck, the person’s rating wouldn’t even need to be that low. How many downstate Illinois Democrats openly campaigned with Pat Quinn two years ago when he lost every county but one to Rauner?

The simple fact is that the GOP is placing a multi-million-dollar bet this year on a single person’s smashing unpopularity. Yes, the Republicans have tried and failed to do this same thing for literally decades. But never has so much money and effort been expended on the task – and Madigan has never been as well-known as he is today. Local news media outlets have so far been mostly cooperative, and the Republicans essentially have their own “newspapers” that are being mailed to voters just to make sure their message gets through.

The House Democrats are expected to counter all this with various retorts, including one that labels the Republican Bruce Rauner as a “failed governor.”

The Democrats will try to tie Republicans to a governor with a dismal 33 percent job approval rating who, they’ll say, wants to slash vital services and inflict harm on everyday working people.

In a preview of this, Rep. John Bradley’s latest TV ad claims the Democrat “stood up to Bruce Rauner’s massive cuts to our schools,” and points out that Rauner is “bankrolling” his opponent’s campaign and claims his GOP opponent “is worse than Rauner.” Bradley (D-Marion) sits at the very top of the Republicans’ target list and he has been hammered for weeks in the mail and on TV for being a Madigan “pawn.”

The House Democrats have often launched their campaigns in early to mid-August, well before the Republicans could afford to fight back. This time, though, the Republicans are flush with Rauner’s money and have dominated the playing field for weeks. Speaker Madigan reportedly told attendees at an Illinois Federation of Teachers political conference in early July that the governor’s campaign operation had spent more than a million dollars on House races in just two weeks.

And they’re not just spending money on negative attacks. A recent mailer for Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) touts her vote for the stopgap budget “without a tax increase.” The mailer also claims Rep. Bryant is fighting “against the Chicago political machine.” The Republicans have already sent innumerable mailers like that to voters everywhere before the Democrats have even gotten out of the gate.

Not mentioned, of course, is that the stopgap budget Bryant voted for had an $8 billion deficit and will create a $10 billion state payment backlog by December. Details, details.

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

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