February 17, 2010


Republican Bill Brady, the obscure Bloomington state senator who apparently has won the Republican nomination for Illinois governor, looms as the first total nonentity likely to win since 1948.

In that year Democrat Adlai Stevenson, a Chicago lawyer whose only claim to fame was that his namesake grandfather was elected vice president in 1892 and defeated for governor in 1908, beat scandal-stained Republican incumbent Dwight Green. The contest was a referendum on Green's 8-year reign, and Stevenson won by 527,067 votes, far more than Democrat Harry Truman's 33,612-vote win for president.

The prevailing spin is that Brady may be too conservative and that his legislative votes over two decades will prove a treasure trove for Democratic attack ads, but, historically, when an incumbent is on the ballot, the election is a referendum on the incumbent's job performance and not on the challenger.

Governor Pat Quinn won the Democratic primary with 50.4 percent of the vote, beating Dan Hynes by 8,090 votes. A pre-primary poll put his "disapproval" rating at 55 percent. Clearly, half of the state's Democrats believe his governing ability is somewhere between horrendous and odiferous.

Illinois has 7,789,500 registered voters, so Quinn starts the autumn campaign with his 460,376 Feb. 2 votes, which is roughly 5.9 percent of the registered total. If the 2010 turnout approximates the 2006 turnout of 3,587,676, then Quinn's base is 12.8 percent.

The bottom line: Quinn loses if the election is about him. The governor can win only by demonizing Brady. A flawed and incompetent governor is preferable to an extremist nutcase, but Brady is likable and personable, not a mean, in-your-face Jim Oberweis-type conservative.

Brady is a social conservative, with pro-gun rights, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage stances, but he also voted for fiscal and governmental reforms and for campaign contribution limits, and he opposed fee and tax hikes.

To win, Brady must be the "change" candidate, which means the untainted, non-incumbent candidate. He must keep the focus on state fiscal issues, on Quinn's vacillation and ineptitude, on Quinn's advocacy of a state income tax hike, and on epidemic corruption under one-party Democratic rule.

Like Richard Nixon in 1968, who claimed he had a plan to end the Vietnam War but couldn't disclose it, Brady must insist that he can eliminate Illinois' $12 billion deficit without raising taxes. That means slashing spending, but, unlike Newt Gingrich in 1995, Brady can't threaten to shut down government. Voters love platitudes. In 2008 it was Barack Obama's "the change we need." For this election Brady's mantra must be "we can find a way."

On Feb. 2, good fortune shone upon Brady. In 2006 Brady ran for governor and got 135,370 votes (18.4 percent of the total) against four foes in a turnout of 735,810. In the recent primary, according to unofficial returns, Brady got 155,263 votes (20.2 percent of the total) against six foes in a turnout of 764,961. That's an uptick of 19,893 votes -- hardly a surge.

Brady's primary campaign can be summarized in four words: "Say No To Chicago." He says that almost all of the state's current corrupt, arrogant and incompetent politicians are from Chicago, so to cure the problem, elect a non-Chicagoan, namely, Bill Brady, from Downstate.

In this area that theme laid an egg. In Chicago, where 33,900 votes were cast, Brady got 1,837 votes (5.4 percent of the votes cast), finishing sixth. In suburban Cook County, where 118,090 votes were cast, Brady got 6,414 (5.1 percent), finishing sixth. In the Collar Counties of DuPage, Kane, Will and Lake, where 216,398 votes were cast, Brady got 12,819 (5.9 percent), finishing sixth. Downstate, where 396,583 votes were cast, Brady got 134,193 (33.8 percent), finishing first. Unofficially, he is ahead by 406 votes, and a recount is probable. Brady is expected to prevail.

Brady was a non-factor in the Republican primary. While frontrunners Andy McKenna, Kirk Dillard and Jim Ryan pummeled each other, Brady was ignored. McKenna ripped Dillard for making a complimentary ad for Obama in the 2008 Iowa primary and for not unconditionally opposing any tax hike; McKenna embraced the no tax/no spending hike mantra. Dillard trotted out former governor Jim Edgar and positioned himself as the most competent contender. Ryan, who lost the 2002 race for governor, had the best name identification.

The result: McKenna's ads soured Republicans on Dillard, but his incessant negativity diminished his own appeal. Ryan was a relic of the past. Nevertheless, the combined Dillard/Ryan vote was 282,234, or 37.2 percent of the total. The "outsiders," McKenna, Brady, Adam Andrzejewski, Dan Proft and Bob Schillerstrom (who withdrew but whose name remained on the ballot), got 482,727 votes, or 62.8 percent. Dillard, Ryan and Schillerstrom are all from DuPage County, where Ryan finished first with 29.3 percent of the vote, to 23 percent for Dillard. Had Schillerstrom not run, at least half of his 2,188 DuPage votes would have gone to Dillard, making him the victor. Had Ryan not run, Dillard would have trounced Brady.

For Brady, winning a primary with 20.2 percent of the vote is embarrassing, and hardly a mandate. But the other candidates' 79.8 percent was not an anti-Brady vote. Brady is not unacceptable to the 764,961 Republican voters. His task in November is to make himself minimally acceptable to another million voters.

In Illinois' last 16 gubernatorial elections, incumbents have been reelected in six of 11 contests. Each was a referendum on the governor:

In 1948 Green lost to Stevenson by 527,067 votes, getting 42.9 percent of the vote.

In 1956 Republican incumbent Bill Stratton, who was rocked by a huge scandal in the state auditor's office, barely managed to win a second term by 36,877 votes, getting 50.3 percent of the votes cast, while Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was winning the state by 847,645 votes.

In 1960 Stratton sought a third term and was monumentally unpopular. The "Daley Machine" slated Otto Kerner, a Cook County judge, and he thrashed Stratton by a 524,252-vote margin, getting 55.5 percent of the vote, while Democrat John Kennedy was winning the state by just 8,858 votes.

In 1964 wealthy Republican businessman Chuck Percy tried to portray Kerner as inept, but Kerner won by 179,299 votes, getting 51.9 percent of the vote, while Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried Illinois by 890,887 votes, a difference of 613,588 votes. Kerner was appointed a federal judge in 1968, as he was not deemed re-electable.

Lieutenant Governor Sam Shapiro succeeded to the governorship, and he faced Cook County Board President Dick Ogilvie in the fall election. With the country in tumult and the state in dire fiscal straits, Ogilvie prevailed by 127,794 votes (getting 51.2 percent of the total cast), while Nixon won the state by 134,960 votes.

 In 1972, after he signed a bill creating a state income tax, Ogilvie's popularity withered precipitously. His expected Democratic foe, Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon, supported the tax, but the opportunistic Dan Walker upset him in the primary and pounded Ogilvie as a tax hiker. While Nixon demolished George McGovern by 874,707 votes, Walker won by 77,494 votes, with 50.7 percent of the total cast.

In 1978, after gubernatorial elections were moved off-year, first-term Republican Jim Thompson made few mistakes, and he obliterated Democrat Mike Bakalis by 596,550 votes, getting 59 percent of the total.

In 1982, amid a recession during the early Reagan Administration, Thompson faced former U.S. senator Adlai Stevenson, who tried to blame Thompson for the tough economic times. Thompson won by just 5,074 votes. Interestingly, Thompson's vote declined from 1,859,684 in 1978 to 1,816,101 in 1982, but the Democratic vote soared from 1,263,134 to 1,811,027 -- an increase of 547,893. Clearly, the Democrats were energized.

In 1986, after a LaRouchie candidate won the Democratic lieutenant governor primary, Stevenson ran against Thompson as the Solidarity Party candidate and got trounced by 399,223 votes, getting 47.3 percent of the vote.

In 1994 Jim Edgar sought a second term and was quick to isolate Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch as a tax-and-spend liberal, a charge she failed to refute. Edgar buried her by 914,468 votes (with 63.9 percent of the vote), aided by the unpopularity of the Clinton Administration.

In 2006 Democrat Rod Blagojevich's "pay to play" fund raising, which later precipitated his impeachment and current indictment, enabled him to raise $25 million and excoriate Judy Baar Topinka in a torrent of television ads. Blagojevich won by 367,416 votes (with 49.8 percent of the total cast), with 361,336 votes to the Green Party nominee.

So which race does Quinn-Brady resemble? Not 2006, because Quinn doesn't have $25 million. Not 1994, because there's no 2010 Democratic "wave" to buoy Quinn. Not 1972, because Quinn has not yet raised taxes. Not 1964, because Kerner's ineptitude (and later indictment and conviction for bribery) was overcome by the Democratic trend.

My prediction: 2010 is another 1960. Kerner was shallow, superficial, telegenic, uncontroversial and lucky. It was the right year with the right opponent. Quinn, like Stratton, is unelectable. Brady, like Kerner, needs to keep the campaign's focus off him and on the chaos in Springfield. If Brady loses, he will go down in Illinois' history as a politician of epic ineptitude.