October 25, 2017



Speaker Mike Madigan is the archetypal political entrepreneur: He creates value in a product. That product is a called a candidate. And that candidate is marketed through the expenditure of between hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

Merry Marwig is such a commodity. The first-time Democratic candidate for state representative in the 20th District was the beneficiary of $2.1 million in expenditures put into her 2016 campaign by the Illinois Democratic Party, which is chaired by Madigan, labor unions, Madigan-friendly political action committees and donors, and Madigan's own campaign funds. Almost all of her 20-plus mailings and major media TV ads were paid for by the state party, which served as a donor, inoculating the candidate against potential charges that Madigan or some odious special interest was bankrolling her.

Marwig lost 25,387-19,724, getting 43.7 percent. This was in an election where Marwig's name was fifth on the ballot, just below Hillary Clinton, Tammy Duckworth and Susana Mendoza. Despite her desultory showing in a year that was very favorable to all Democrats, Marwig is back for a rematch. Or, more accurately, Madigan wants a return on his $2.1 million investment, and does not want to bankroll another rookie candidate. Marwig now has considerable name recognition, and the district has a built-in Democratic base of 40 to 45 percent.

When the nominating petition circulatory period opened the first Tuesday in September, a phalanx of 13th Ward Madigan supporters, under the supervision of Alderman Marty Quinn (13th), known as "the General," along with a contingent of labor union "volunteers," swooped into the district and got Marwig 3,000-plus signatures in a week. The maximum filing number is 1,600.

Marwig's victorious opponent, incumbent Mike McAuliffe (R-20), was also a 2016 political commodity, and his candidacy was boosted by Governor Bruce Rauner and his rich friends, using the same stratagem of pumping dollars into the Illinois Republican Party, which then bought media time and paid for a deluge of mailers, numbering three a week from Labor Day onward. Like Madigan with Marwig, using the state the party meant McAuliffe could not be castigated as a puppet for Rauner. Overall, McAuliffe was the beneficiary of $2.8 million in party expenditures and PAC attack ads on Marwig. 2016's McAuliffe-Marwig contest was a Rauner-Madigan proxy war, and the governor won. 2018 will be another proxy war.

Since his first election in 1996, McAuliffe had only two difficult, competitive races - in 2002 against fellow incumbent Bob Bugielski in a merged district, and in 2004 against incumbent Ralph Capparelli, who moved out of the district to let Bugielski run, and then moved back in after Bugielski lost. McAuliffe got 53.7 percent in 2002 and 59.2 percent in 2004. The next five contests were non-competitive, with Madigan providing no funding for the Democratic challenger, and the 2011 Madigan remap made the district safer for McAuliffe by adding a large slice of north Park Ridge, and deleting sections of the 38th Ward and Leyden Township. In none of the post-2006 elections did McAuliffe raise or spend more than $70,000, nor get more than 60 percent.

Overall, the 20th District contains 84 precincts, with 41 on the far Northwest Side of Chicago and 43 in the near northwest suburbs, containing all or parts of Park Ridge, Rosemont, Norridge, Harwood Heights, Des Plaines and Schiller Park.

It is indisputable that McAuliffe could not have won in 2016 without the infusion of Rauner-generated money, and it is equally indisputable that McAuliffe cannot and will not win in 2018 without another infusion of $2 million. According to the Sept. 30 disclosure filings, Rauner had $65.6 million on-hand, gave himself $50 million of that amount, and transferred $500,000 to the state Republicans in late August, and another $4.45 million in early September, earmarked for 2018 legislative races. That means McAuliffe will have, if needed, loads of cash to counteract whatever loads of cash Madigan dumps into the Marwig race.

"They're going to try to tie me to Rauner and Trump" in 2018, predicted McAuliffe, who voted against the state income tax increase, but has compiled a pro-labor record over the years. Up until 2016, Madigan didn't really care that there was a Republican in a Chicago-centric district, as he had a super-majority - 71-47 going into 2016 - enabling him to pass any bill in overtime sessions and override any of governor's veto. The enduring consensus was that Madigan, whenever he wanted to spend upwards of $2 million to take the 20th District, would do so. In 2016, Madigan decided he needed to take out McAuliffe in order to protect his super-majority, and spent $2.1 million. He failed spectacularly, losing 4 seats, knocking him down to a 67-51 non-super-majority. The income tax hike would not have passed but for Republican votes.

Madigan's game plan for 2018, which was somewhat upended by the retirement of his daughter, Lisa Madigan, as state attorney general, is to nominate J.B. Pritzker for governor, as he can and will self-fund and spend more than $100 million, and to nominate Kwame Raoul for attorney general, as he can and will precipitate a huge, monolithically Democratic black turnout. Therefore, Madigan can tap into whatever Democratic resources remain.

But that begs the salient question: Can McAuliffe be beat? Why will 2018 be different from 2016? Marwig did not respond to requests for a comment. Obviously, given that 2018 is a non-presidential election, turnout will decline. It was 45,108 in the 20th District in 2016, and 30,233 in 2014.

Marwig's 2016 performance leaves a lot to be desired. As a Madigan "top-tier" candidate, a handler, meaning a Springfield House staffer or two is dispatched to run her campaign. The protocol is that the candidate's sole function is to be in the precincts every hour of every day, and that Madigan's minion(s) run the campaign. Their well-paid efforts were an abject failure. McAuliffe won by 5,663 votes. In 2014, he won by 7,525 votes.

In 2016, McAuliffe's base turned out. In the 41st Ward, where both McAuliffe and Marwig reside - McAuliffe in Oriole Park and Marwig in Norwood Park - and where McAuliffe is Republican committeeman and has a precinct organization, was a blowout. McAuliffe won 31 of 34 precincts, 13 with more than 60 percent. The Marwig operation, consisting mainly of imported workers, was wholly ineffective. In the 38th Ward, where Alderman Nick Sposato endorsed Marwig because fellow alderman Quinn asked him to do so, McAuliffe won 6 of 7 precincts. Overall, McAuliffe won the 41 city precincts 12,503-8,838, or 58.6 percent.

In the suburbs' 43 precincts, the result was slightly less lopsided, with McAuliffe winning 20 precincts by a 13,236-11,304 margin, or 53.9 percent. In Maine Township, which includes 18 precincts in Park Ridge north of Devon, and north around the Country Club, plus 4 in Des Plaines, McAuliffe won 7,024-6,697. In the 11 Leyden Township precincts, which include Park Ridge south of Devon, plus Rosemont and parts of Schiller Park, McAuliffe won 2,834-2,438. In Norridge-Harwood Heights' 8 precincts, where McAuliffe had the endorsements of mayors James Chmura and Arlene Jezierny of Norridge and Harwood Heights, respectively, he won 2,942-1,783. In Niles, McAuliffe won 436-386.

Why did this happen? First, the McAuliffe surname is close to iconic on the Northwest Side. McAuliffe's late father Roger held the House seat from 1972 until his accidental death in 1996, and Michael won the succession in 1996 and thereafter. Through 2016, the McAuliffe name has been on the ballot 46 times, 23 in the Republican primary and 23 in an election, never losing once. And second, like his dad, Mike McAuliffe eschews controversy, campaigns assiduously every cycle, and provides suitable constituent service. McAuliffe has built an image as a nice guy who is accessible and who opposes tax increases.

During the 2016 campaign, Madigan's party-paid mailers for Marwig were typically scurrilous, one charging that McAuliffe "voted to allow sexual predators on school grounds," another that he was sympathetic to rapists and domestic abusers; another that he was a "liar," and finally that he was a "career politician" - which was really hypocritical, given the fact that Madigan has been in the House since 1970, and speaker for all but two years since 1982.

In fact, McAuliffe voted for a bill which passed almost unanimously that allowed convicted sexual predators to attend their child's school events with consent, and opposed increased funding for social service agencies dealing with rape, violence and domestic abuse counseling. As to the "liar" charge, McAuliffe once sent out a letter, as chairman of the Veterans' Affairs committee, to "fellow veterans," even though he never served in the military. None of those allegations stuck. And Marwig's assertions that she was an "independent" appeared fatuous and deceptive, given the avalanche of her mailings. People asked: Where is she getting the money? And McAuliffe's mailings slammed her as a Madigan puppet, answering that question.
In 2018, McAuliffe will trumpet that he opposed the Madigan-supported income tax increase, while Marwig will have to nit-pick.

A Madigan/Marwig 2018 problem is that the Chicago House districts to the east - Rob Martwick's 19th and John D'Amico's 15th - will feature contests in 2018, with Martwick facing a primary. Madigan resources will have to be diverted to those districts.

Going into 2018, McAuliffe is a solid favorite, and Marwig looks like a hapless two-time loser.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.