Losers can be winners in right circumstances
by RUSS STEWART
I still remember, from the long-ago days of my childhood, those classic Dr. Seuss’ illustrated books and rhymes: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent!"
How about an update from Dr. Stewart?
"A loss is a loss, or a loss is a win, but underperforming expectations is a politician’s most deadly sin."
This column is about losers, of which there are multiple varieties, in Illinois, predominantly Republicans:
There are those who run for public office, realistically expect to get elected or re-elected and, defying expectations, manage to lose. They have personal flaws or get caught in a "wave" for the other party. Presumed winners who disappoint don’t get a second shot. Examples would be Republican Jim Ryan, who lost for governor in 2002, and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who lost for senator in 2010.
Ryan had won contests for state attorney general by 280,631 votes (with 53.6 percent of the total cast) in 1994 and by 783,802 votes (with 60.9 percent) in 1998, but scandals implicating Governor George Ryan doomed his candidacy, creating a Democratic "wave" in 2002. Giannoulias, a basketball-playing buddy of Barack Obama, got sucked down in the 2010 Republican "wave." Neither will get another chance.
There are those who run and expect to lose, but who use the campaign to establish name identity and build a political organization. If they lose respectably and engender loyalty and fervor among their donors and volunteers, they will get a second shot. An example would be Democrat Will Guzzardi, who won the 2014 39th District primary for state representative over 12-year incumbent Toni Berrios on his second try.
Guzzardi lost to Berrios in 2012 by 125 votes; he triumphed in 2014 by 1,843 votes.
There are those who live to run, who are lifetime candidates, who accept defeat as part of the game, and who keep trying. With each failed campaign, they become better known, and eventually they win. An example is Governor Pat Quinn, who won four of eight state contests and one county post. Quinn was an organizer for Dan Walker in his 1972 gubernatorial campaign, got a state job, and found his vocation in life — running campaigns and running for office. He got the Legislative Cutback Amendment on the 1980 ballot, won an upset victory for the old Board of Tax Appeals (now Board of Review) in 1982, lost for state treasurer in 1986, won for state treasurer in 1990, lost for secretary of state (to George Ryan) in 1994, lost for U.S. senator in 1996 and lost for lieutenant governor in 1998. Finally, because he was so well known and never lost embarrassingly, Quinn won the lieutenant governor nomination in 2002; he teamed with Rod Blagojevich in a great Democratic year. They were re-elected in 2006, and Quinn became governor after Blagojevich’s impeachment.
Quinn always focused on advancement, on a more powerful job; he never spent energy on keeping and doing his existent job well.
There are those who, like the Chicago Cubs, are doomed to lose, could not conceivably win, have no clue as to why they didn’t win, and keep running, losing and blaming everybody but themselves for their fate. An example is state Senator Jim Oberweis (R-25), the dairy scion who is running for U.S. senator and who lost statewide primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2006 and two congressional elections in 2008. In Illinois, Oberweis is unelectable, but in his mind, he loses because the liberal news media poison the public with distortions of his pro-gun rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-gay marriage views.
Oberweis is running against U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, and he has a zero chance of victory.
Essentially, there are two kinds of politicians: risk takers and time servers.
The former want power, want it quick, and will readily relinquish their current office if an opportunity presents itself to win a more prestigious office. They recoil at the idea of spending 10 to 20 years in one office. That’s Quinn. Illinois’ preeminent time server is Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-22), who arrived in Springfield in 1970 at age 28 and is still there. Madigan has been the speaker for 30 of the past 32 years, he controls the legislature’s agenda, and at age 72 he is sticking around to pave the way for his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to be elected governor in 2018.
Understandably, those who spend years, if not decades, climbing the political ladder are risk averse. They have a substantial investment in keeping their job — monetarily and personally. They have spent countless hours campaigning to get where they’re at, they have accepted countless donations from special interests to keep their office, they have foregone their most productive years to be an underpaid office holder (or, in the case of most Democrats, to be a stooge of the bosses who elected and re-elected them), and they have a great pension awaiting them if they serve 20-plus years.
Another example is Joe Berrios, who was the first Puerto Rican-heritage precinct captain in Tom Keane’s old 31st Ward, who was a protege of ward boss Ed Nedza and a clerk at the Board of Tax Appeals, and who was made a state representative in 1982 at age 30. In 1988 Berrios was slated for and elected a BTA commissioner, thereafter raising hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from tax appeal attorneys and pumping it into his ward and the Democratic Party. In 2010, after becoming the county Democratic Party chairman and in mid-term as a Board of Review commissioner, Berrios got himself slated for county assessor, eked out a 39.2 percent victory in the primary and a 45.8 percent win in the election against independent Forrest Claypool, and is unopposed in the fall. Berrios’ upward progression was safe and seamless.
Of course, if one is not in office, risk taking is less career threatening, and there are, again, multiple gradations. There are those who are "cocooned" — recruited, nurtured and funded by party elders, and if defeated, put on a payroll somewhere. An example is Tammy Duckworth, a west suburban congresswoman and the Democrats’ presumptive 2016 U.S. Senate nominee.
Duckworth, a member of Illinois’ Army National Guard and the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran father and Thai mother, was detailed to Iraq in 1992 and was one of the first women to fly helicopter combat missions. When her craft was shot down, she lost most of both legs, and an arm was severely injured. In 2006 she was recruited by Durbin to run in the west suburban/DuPage County district of retiring U.S. Representative Henry Hyde’s (R-6). The Republican nominee was Peter Roskam, a former Hyde aide and a Hinsdale-area state senator, who had lost a 1998 Republican primary to Judy Biggert in the neighboring 13th U.S. House District by 2,698 votes.
The year 2006 was an anti-Bush "wave" year, and Duckworth was perceived as a likely winner, but the 6th District’s Republican base salvaged Roskam, who won 91,382-86,572, with 51 percent of the vote. Duckworth’s bonafides were then incontrovertible. Blagojevich appointed her as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and Obama later appointed her the assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Thus nurtured and cocooned, Springfield Democrats created a Democrat-friendly congressional seat in the 8th District, centered in the Schaumburg-Elgin. Republican Joe Walsh, who won a Barrington-McHenry County seat in 2010, moved into the district. During the 2012 campaign, Walsh repeatedly ripped Duckworth as an Obama stooge, and Duckworth attacked Walsh as an "extremist" backing gun rights and abortion restrictions and opposing gay marriage. In a district where Obama won 133,208-94,044 (with 58 percent of the vote), Duckworth beat Walsh 123,206-101,860 (with 55 percent).
uckworth will win re-election in 2014 over military veteran Larry Kaifesh, and Durbin is already clearing the decks for her to run for U.S. senator in 2016.
In 2016, Kaifesh, if he performs well in 2016 and gets more than 40 percent of the vote, will be well positioned to win the open seat.
No risk. Mid-term is a wonderful time to run for another office. Those options, however, are limited. In 2000 Obama, then a state senator, challenged U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-1) and lost, getting just 30 percent of the vote. Obama didn’t have to vacate his legislative seat, nor did he in 2004, when he ran a long shot U.S. Senate campaign. Congressmen who run for senator, such as Mark Kirk in 2010, give up their jobs, and after a negative campaign, the negativity for the winner dissipates.
So the bottom line is this: Losers can be winners. Quinn lost multiple times. Durbin lost for lieutenant governor in 1978. Oberweis lost repeatedly. Losing respectably, even if repeatedly, is not a block to future wins.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.