December 22, 2021

For those who cling to the illusion of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, here is another fantasy: Governor J.B. Pritzker as the Democratic nominee for president in 2024.

The Democratic Left is already in post-Biden mode. The president has got 37 months left in his term and his job approval polling is under 40 percent, about as bad as Trump's in 2018. And even CNN is already eagerly anticipating his exit, preferably sooner than later.

They have broadcast a list of 11 potential 2024 replacements and Pritzker is ranked at number seven below vice president Kamala Harris, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) and governors Phil Murphy (NJ) and Gretchen Whitmer (MI). But he finished ahead of governor Roy Cooper (NC), Stacey Abrams (GA), commerce secretary Gina Raimondo and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. That's not much of an accomplishment, especially considering whom he finished behind.

Notably absent from the list were Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, governors Gavin Newsome (CA) and Jared Polis (CO), ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Michael Bloomberg, outgoing NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, and quite understandably, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. And one never knows what Andrew Cuomo will do. That's a very cluttered field, and there will be a leftmost candidate in the 2024 primaries.

This of course is predicated on Biden finishing his term that runs through Jan. 2025. The political equation significantly alters if Harris becomes president. She would choose her new vice-president, most likely Buttigieg. That would be the perfect identity ticket.

The mere fact that a Biden re-election bid is already being scorned and discounted is telling. First, COVID and inflation, plus open borders will be around for a long while. Second, these issues will result in a massive Republican comeback in November 2022, ousting Democrats from congressional control. Third, blame will be heaped on Biden, if not on Biden-Harris. Fourth, Republican control will gridlock Washington and the left's agenda for 2023-24. And fifth, the increasingly less remote possibility of a Trump 2024 comeback (and win) will panic the Democrats and the media.

But Pritzker for president? Even in a fantasy that seems implausible. What does he bring to the table besides a net worth of $3.66 billion? He is a conventional liberal, a polarizing governor in some circles due to his COVID policies, and a longtime party donor who could self-fund - like up to a billion - an early primary campaign, blanketing IA, NH and SC with media ads. He handled COVID like a standard blue-state governor, with shutdowns, closures, masks and mandates. He lost his 2020 FAIR Tax Amendment. He has kept the $42 billion state budget in check, mostly with federal funds, but he did impose or raise 42 taxes or fees. He can show up at the 2023-24 candidate debates/forums but will get no traction.

Of course, all that is moot unless J.B. wins a second term. He spent $177 million to win in 2018, but his 54-38 percent landslide was more anti-Rauner and anti-Trump than pro-Pritzker. The year 2022 will be a referendum on both Biden-Harris and Pritzker, much as it was in 2010 and 2014. Bill Brady (R) lost for governor by 31,834 votes in 2010, with turnout down 1,792,382 from 2008, a presidential election year. Bruce Rauner (R) won for governor by 142,284 votes in 2014 with turnout down 1,614,324 from 2012, another presidential election year.

And Rauner lost for governor in 2018 by 713,995 votes with turnout down by 988,767 from 2016 (presidential election year).

Turnout was 817,668 higher than 2014, and that was an anti-Trump surge. Turnout was 6,033744 in 2020 and will be more like 2014/2010 than 2018 in 2022.

The Republicans' quandary is to find a candidate who can match Pritzker's dollars but who can avoid any association with Trump. That is proving difficult. The field consists of Jesse Sullivan, a venture capitalist, Gary Rabine, a construction and paving company owner, state senator Darren Bailey, and former state senator Paul Schimpf. Bailey "has the most street cred," said one pollster, referring to the fact that got publicity in 2020 by filing a lawsuit to stop Pritzker's early COVID mandates. "He's a fighter."

The Ogden & Fry pollster added that Bailey has the largest geographic base - the 96 counties outside the Chicago metro area. Of the 722,162 votes cast in the 2018 primary for governor, only 3 to 4 percent came from Chicago, 10 percent from the Cook County suburbs, and 20 percent from the collar counties. That leaves 65 percent "Downstate," which is everywhere else, which is where Trump ran strong, and which is where a Trump primary endorsement is determinative. The Trump endorsee will win. It will be either Bailey or Rabine. "Bailey is ahead," said the pollster, with 60 percent undecided. The primary is June 28.

Outlook: Sullivan has already had a massive media buy and raised over $8 million, but comes across a vapid and shallow: "Together we can make Illinois strong" is his theme. Sounds like Hillary's "Stronger Together." Republicans want specificity: No new taxes. No new COVID mandates. No coziness with Democrats, who will retain their legislative majorities. They want an attacker.

Republicans want a governor who "will work for safety, education and opportunity," said Rabine, who said he would raise $1 million for the primary. Bailey had $1,002,420 on-hand.
For Republicans a symbolic loss is preferable to a hollow win. Mike Madigan is not around, but the IL Trump base is looking ahead to 2024 and wants a Trump-like candidate who can begin building a base. In 2014 Rauner faced three Republicans, one the incumbent state treasurer, and two who ran in 2010. He spent the most money and was viewed as electable. That's not the environment in 2022. Bailey will be the nominee.

COOK COUNTY: Never under-estimate the political value of arcane parliamentary procedure. It got Assessor Fritz Kaegi re-slated at the Democrats' Dec. 13-14 slate-making confab, much to the shock of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) president Kari Steele. She thought she had the support of party chair Toni Preckwinkle, and thought that was enough to get the weighted-vote majority of the 80 ward and township committeepersons needed to dump Kaegi. The weighted-vote is that cast in the 2020 primary in their bailiwick, which totaled 1.016,178.

She was wrong, just as I was wrong in a prior column predicting a Steele slating. Rules and traditions always prevail, and Democrats at their pre-slating established a 56-member "subcommittee" to make a "recommendation" for county board president (Preckwinkle), sheriff (Tom Dart), treasurer (Maria Pappas), clerk (Karen Yarbrough) and assessor. Shrewdly, Kaegi's agents, which included Preckwinkle, Oak Park's Don Harmon, Alderman Chris Taliaferro (29th), Evanston's Eeamon Kelly and the 46th Ward's Sean Tenner, "bundled" their recommendation to include all five incumbents, not each individually. It got a weighted-vote majority of 56 subcommittee members. When the bundle was presented Steele's supporters made a "motion to lay (the motion) on the table," effectively killing the recommendation and requiring the committeepersons to vote for each office.

That on-the-table motion was defeated narrowly, by "about 20,000" weighted-votes said one committeeperson. "That's about the vote (cast in) one township," he added. "If the vote was taken individually, Steele would have won." Then all recommendations - for judge, MWRD, state and county - were adopted by acclamation. Kaegi is now PART OF THE TEAM, not an outsider who must justify his record. That's now Steele's job, and she will need to raise at least $2 million and build a Black/White "progressive" coalition.

The nominating petition circulation is Jan. 13 through March 7 with 5,885 valid signatures required to get on the county ballot. Double that is the norm to withstand a challenge. Steele's political base is on the South Lakefront, where her father was an alderman and later judge. That's also Preckwinkle's and Lightfoot's floor leader Michelle Harris's (8th) base.

Preckwinkle is the county party chair and faces a vote to keep that post after the primary. She faces a primary challenge from Zerlina Smith-Members, who calls herself an activist and is from the West Side Austin area. Former commissioner Richard Boykin from Oak Park could also run. Preckwinkle's reputation took a huge hit when she got 26.3 percent in the 2019 mayoral runoff. In 2022 she needs all the committeepersons to back her, and she can't furtively aid Steele.

It remains to be seen if Steele even files to primary Kaegi, who had $1,052,163 as of Sept. 30. Her Web site said she was running as of Nov. 16, asking for "Peace. Love. Equity." Slating costs the slatee $45,000, which is then used to print and mail sample ballots to the county's 900,000 Democratic households.

Kaegi is favored.