By Rich Miller
Democratic House candidate John Bartman was appointed to the ballot in July when Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, dropped out of the race to run for McHenry County Board chairman. Bartman is not getting help from the House Democrats, who appear to have all but conceded.
Rep. Franks’ district is solidly Republican. President Barack Obama lost it by 8 points four years ago. Franks has been able to win it because, well, he’s Jack Franks. He talks a good Republican line back home and takes some high-profile votes against his own party. Bartman is no Jack Franks.
Even so, the Republicans say they want to “drown” any possible chance that Bartman may have, particularly in a year like this. So, they’ve launched a negative cable TV blitz, with similar ads on radio and in the mail. As of October 21, Republican candidate Steven Reick had reported $187,000 in contributions since October 1st, which is about $65,000 more than he and the Republicans spent in this district during the entire third quarter.
“You can always judge a person by who their friends are,” the spot begins. “Take John Bartman, a hand-picked 2003 IDOT patronage hire of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and chosen political tool of Mike Madigan. Under Speaker Madigan’s watchful eye, Barman will be forced to raise your property taxes to fuel more wasteful government spending for his political boss. You pay more and Bartman will side with his boss.”
As we’ve discussed before, the Republicans truly believe they have found the magic elixir this year by constantly invoking the horribly unpopular Speaker Madigan’s name.
GOP Rep. Dwight Kay, for instance, was quoted in the Belleville News Democrat last week as saying: “The first thing we need to do to get the budget balanced is to see that Mike Madigan goes home.”
That’s a pretty tall order, but if it works electorally and the Republicans hold onto their incumbents like Kay and pick up some Democratic seats, they’ll undoubtedly say that Madigan has become so toxic to his own members that it’s time for him to go.
Some of the Republican ads I’ve seen this year mention Madigan’s name even when it’s not particularly relevant to the ads’ messaging. Perhaps the inclusion gives the attack added weight because Madigan is so unpopular. It’s also likely designed to keep the Republican “theme” going regardless of content. But I have also come to suspect it’s being done so they can claim that they used Madigan in almost all of their negative ads and that’s why they prevailed over the Democrats.
And, hey, if it doesn’t work, well, just look at Gov. Rauner’s comments throughout the summer and fall for a preview of what they’ll say the day after the election.
The governor has repeatedly pointed to Madigan’s “undemocratic” legislative district map, which he says has “rigged” the election against the Republicans. You gotta figure he’ll use that as his excuse if Madigan comes out on top, as well as infinite references to Donald Trump’s expected miserable performance.
But, wait. Aren’t quite a few pundits saying that Trump’s repeated refrain that the election will be rigged hurting him further by depressing his base of support?
They could be right, but Gov. Rauner has added a twist.
“We’ve got a system that is rigged,” Rauner told WAND TV’s Doug Wolfe in late August.
But then he did something that Trump isn’t doing. He talked about a solution.
“We’ve got gerrymandered districts that are shaped like spaghetti noodles in many cases designed to protect incumbents.” So, Rauner said, to fix this, Illinoisans need to support reforms, like redistricting and term limits.
And whenever Rauner says this, he adds that the best way to get those reforms is to elect more people who will work with him, mainly Republicans. And the worst thing to do is to vote for anyone associated with his arch enemy Speaker Madigan.
So, what Rauner is doing is quite clever. He uses Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric without all that “nasty” Trump baggage.
Of course, if Trump does unintentionally depress his own base, that would be really bad news for Rauner, who is counting on that base to turn out and vote his way—which is one reason why he won’t say anything that directly criticizes Trump.
What’s that old saying about the best-laid plans?
Jack Franks the Democrat was able to avoid defeat for 18 years in a Republican district, which makes Rauner’s argument about redistricting reform look just a little silly. The point is, though, strange things happen in politics. Stay tuned.