McAuliffe campaign may spend $2 million in race
by RUSS STEWART
This week, two mini-columns on developments in the brutal and increasingly expensive McAuliffe-Marwig contest and on how the “race card” foiled the bid of former 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen to become Cook County’s chief judge.
The Two Million Dollar Man: State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) is going to spend $2 million in “other people’s money” to get re-elected in November. In past elections, against desultory Democratic opposition, McAuliffe’s anemic $40,000 to $50,000 in fund-raising was enough to win. Not this year.
Democrat Merry Marwig, the hand-picked candidate of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, is no pushover. She, through Madigan and the Illinois Democratic Party, will also have gobs of money, probably in the realm of $500,000 to $600,000.
Fortunately for McAuliffe, who is seeking his 11th term, the much-maligned Illinois Republican Party is stepping up big time. They are acting as the conduit to funnel money from political action committees into the McAuliffe campaign. More than $900,000 was spent through Labor Day, including $600,000 on network and cable television ads and $18,000 on each of nine mailings. Another $1.1 million of will be spent before Nov. 8, with pricey television ads during Bears and Cubs games, daytime soap operas and even evening prime time, plus two to three mailers per week with negatives Marwig to Madigan.
Up to six Democratic-held Illinois House seats could flip to Republican; McAuliffe’s is the only seat which could flip from Republican to Democratic. Madigan 71-47 super majority is in jeopardy and, by targeting McAuliffe, Madigan is forcing Springfield Republicans to spend an exorbitant sum to save him and not spend the $2 million on vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
According to the McAuliffe campaign, internal polling shows McAuliffe up 49-35 percent, with 16 percent undecided. For an incumbent, that cuts both ways. Normally, undecided voters break 2-1 for the challenger, so McAuliffe should be just barely over the top, but the 20th District’s Democratic base is at least 45 percent and Marwig has become somewhat known and has room to grow. Pollsters survey “likely” voters, not registered voters, and the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump race could draw a plethora of “unlikely” voters to the polls. “It’s a volatile electorate,” McAuliffe admits.
The 20th District contains 48 Chicago precincts, 41 in the 41st Ward and seven in the 38th Ward, and 43 suburban precincts, scattered in Park Ridge, Rosemont, Harwood Heights and Norridge. There are 80,000 registered voters and 35,000 households in a district with a population of roughly 110,000. In March McAuliffe got 9,169 votes unopposed in the Republican primary, and Marwig got 13,227 votes unopposed in the Democratic primary. He outperformed Mitt Romney by 13 points in 2012 and Bruce Rauner by 11 points in 2014.
In 2012, the most recent presidential-year election, McAuliffe won 23,462-15,286, in a turnout of 38,748, spending $70,303.
Nevertheless, McAuliffe has three problems. First, he is a Republican in what portends to be a very un-Republican year. McAuliffe has to give voters a reason to vote for him, while Marwig just has to get them to vote Democratic. Second, the McAuliffe name is well known. He says that he has over 80 percent name identification, but he is not well defined. Ask a voter what McAuliffe has done in 20 years and you’ll get a shrug. Ask a voter what issue McAuliffe is identified with. A shrug. The Madigan/Marwig operation is trying to cure that definition deficiency by labeling him a “career politician.”
Marwig said that when she is walking precincts, people tell her that McAuliffe’s “been around too long.” To be sure, McAuliffe or his late father Roger have been on the ballot for state representative every other year since 1972. That’s 44 times. Madigan, who was first elected in 1970, has been on the ballot 46 times. Doesn’t that also make Madigan a “career politician”? “The issue is McAuliffe,” Marwig replied.
Third, McAuliffe’s once crack precinct organization is in tatters, due to atrophy, attrition and bad judgment. After tough contests in 1996, 2002 and 2004, McAuliffe had cakewalks in the next six elections. He didn’t need a precinct game. After his ally, 41st Ward Alderman Brian Doherty, retired in 2011, McAuliffe was on his own, and he made a nonaggression pact with Alderman Mary O’Connor and state Senator John Mulroe, both Democrats, who gave him a “free pass,” while McAuliffe, the 41st Ward Republican committeeman, reciprocated.
It all collapsed in 2015, when firefighter Anthony Napolitano upset O’Connor while McAuliffe was AWOL. Now, in the McAuliffe-Marwig race, Napolitano and his organization are AWOL. Mulroe and new Democratic Committeeman Tim Heneghan are working for Marwig, and Madigan’s 13th Ward alderman, Marty Quinn, has been dispatched to “coordinate” the Marwig campaign. Every weekend busloads of minions from the 13th Ward and elsewhere on the South Side flood the Northwest Side, distributing anti-McAuliffe pieces door to door. McAuliffe has workers from Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens’ organization, but he’s still outnumbered 3-1. “I have a lot of precinct workers,” McAuliffe said. Not busloads.
The winner will be the most prolific mailbox stuffer, not doorstep knocker. The “mailbox strategy” is a sensory assault, bombarding a voter two to three times per week with simple-minded bromides, much like repetitive television ads. Colorfully printed on heavy stock, not in an envelope, the missive’s purpose is to make the candidate’s name pass through the voter’s consciousness for 5 to 10 seconds before it is tossed. McAuliffe’s mailers tout that he “stands up” for seniors, veterans, first responders, women, taxpayers, blah blah, and his newest piece calls Marwig a “politician” and links her with the speaker.
Marwig has had a couple of deceitful, smarmy mailers, paid for by the Illinois Democratic Party. One accuses McAuliffe of voting to allow convicted sexual predators on school grounds. In fact, the 2006 bill, passed unanimously by the House, increased criminal penalties but had an amendment allowing a convicted parent, with the school’s permission, to attend his child’s sports or theater event. The second accuses McAuliffe of “lying” about being a veteran- which he is not. He once was the chairman of the House Veterans Committee, and he sent out a letter to “my fellow veterans” advocating for more nurses for VA hospitals.
“There’s more to come,” McAuliffe predicted. He expects upcoming mailers to hammer him because his wife is a Springfield lobbyist and to portray him as a flunky for Rauner. The proposed state budget is $39 billion, but revenues are only $32 billion, leaving a $7 billion deficit. “I will not support an income tax hike,” McAuliffe said. Expect a deluge of mailers portraying McAuliffe as insensitive to the needs of the “most vulnerable.”
McAuliffe needs to avoid any tangible connection with Rauner or odious special interests, which is why the Illinois Republican Party is funding him. It’s basically a laundering operation. The various political action committees, including Rauner’s, donate to the party, which then provides “in kind” services, such as design, printing and postage, to favored candidates. Madigan does the same thing, laundering union and trial lawyers’ money.
McAuliffe’s television ads are mostly wasted on voters outside his district. If turnout is 45,000 and he manages to get more than half the vote, the price tag will be $84 per vote.
The Evans 129. That black Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans was re-elected to another 3-year term on Sept. 15 by a vote of 129-103 is reflective of the intrinsic racism of the Democratic Party, which believes that once an office goes black, it never goes back. If the party’s white bosses giveth, they cannot taketh away. That would be deemed “racist.”
Evans, as the 4th Ward alderman, was once viewed as the torch bearer of Harold Washington’s legacy. Washington died in 1987. In 1989 Evans lost the mayoral election to Rich Daley, and in 1991 he lost his aldermanic seat to Toni Preckwinkle, so he got himself onto the bench, where his eroded political skills were still sufficient, coupled with support from all the black judges, to get him elected chief judge in 2008.
The job is administrative, and it essentially involves moving judges around the judicial chessboard. He appoints the presiding judges of the Criminal, Law, Chancery, Probate, Divorce, County, Municipal, Traffic, Domestic Violence and Elder Law divisions. They run their divisions. “He’s picked good (presiding) judges,” said one lawyer, who added that Evans never upsets the status quo. “If there’s a ‘bad egg’ judge, somebody who’s not performing well or not showing up, or impaired, Evans does nothing.”
That was the nub of the Allen challenge — change. Allen, the 38th Ward alderman from 1993 until he was appointed a judge in 2010, was the candidate of the younger, newer white judges, who feel themselves stymied and unappreciated. Evans’ base is the black judges, roughly a quarter of the 241 elected judges. A bunch of black judges want to succeed Evans. Evans also had those judges who have hit their glass ceiling, are content to get their 12 years and pension, and didn’t want Allen upsetting their applecart.
However, the key to Allen’s defeat was Alderman Carrie Austin’s threat that black voters would vote against the 60-plus judges on the November retention slate if Evans got dumped. Justice may be blind, but in Cook County, judges are not. They know a race card when they see it.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.