Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Governor, or Senator?

That likely is the biggest question for people interested in Republican Party politics in Illinois who are trying to figure out what role Joe Birkett will try to fill.

Birkett is the state’s attorney for suburban DuPage County (with just over 1 million people, it's the second-largest county in the state) who has already made two bids (both unsuccessful) for statewide office in Illinois.

HE RAN FOR state attorney general in 2002, and was the guy who tried to portray opponent Lisa Madigan as a political neophyte in such an obnoxious manner that few people felt sorry for him on account of the political beating he took at the hands of the Madigan (as in Lisa’s father, Illinois House Speaker Michael) campaign operation.

Then again, he ran on the Illinois ballot in 2006, where he was the lieutenant governor running mate paired up with Judy Baar Topinka’s failed gubernatorial bid, where the two of them were beaten upon by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

So we’re talking about a two-time loser who has taken his share of attacks when it comes to the world of state politics. Yet considering the current weakened status of the Illinois Republican Party, it is only all too logical that Birkett is going to be a favorite for the top post on the ballot.

Which one Birkett seeks likely depends on how one personally defines “top spot.”

WILL HE LITERALLY try to stay within the Illinois government structure, and seek the gubernatorial nomination (he considered doing so in ’06, but finally settled for the running mate status)?

Or is he going to have delusions of becoming one of the “big shots” on Capitol Hill, one of the “elite” 100 who serve in the U.S. Senate?

Birkett didn’t specify which office he would shoot for. But he made it clear earlier this week that he will be running for office in the Illinois state elections of 2010.

He sent out an e-mail to Republican faithful on Monday, telling them of the need to take the elections seriously so as to force their way back into some sort of influence over Illinois government.

“IT’S WITHIN OUR grasp, subject to our will to work hard, give the people a vision of government they can believe in,” Birkett told the GOP loyalists who have been in political purgatory since 2002, which is when the Democratic Party control of Illinois politics began.

Now I’m sure there are some people who see Birkett as the candidate for governor. After all, they want to believe that Blagojevich is so weakened that this is their moment in history to “take back” what they rightfully regard as theirs (the GOP did have their officials as Illinois governor for 26 straight years).

But I’d argue that unless Democrats broke out into a complete civil war in an attempt to challenge Blagojevich (who personally thinks he is worthy of a third term in office), the GOP candidate for governor is a long-shot.

I don’t think Birkett (who tries to appeal to the same social conservative elements that made failed presidential nominee John McCain think Sarah Palin would be a credible running mate) could beat Blagojevich in 2010 unless the incumbent governor literally was indicted for something.

EVEN THEN, HE might not be able to. The simple fact is that Chicago and Democratic-leaning suburbs account for a significant percentage of the state’s population – so much so that there are just too many people who are not interested in the Republicans' “old way” of doing things out of DuPage County.

If DuPage Republicans still had as much influence as they used to, we’d have incoming state Senate Minority Leader Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, instead of more moderate state Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, preparing to assume that leadership position for Republicans when the newly-elected state Senate takes control in January.

If Birkett thinks he can challenge Lisa Madigan for governor (making it an encore of their ’02 campaign against each other), he would discover that she still has the support of her father, and is much more politically savvy now than she was six years ago. She’d whomp on him come Election Day 2010.

It’s why I think Birkett’s chances of winning a statewide race might be better if he went to Washington. Go for the Senate.

HE’S GOING TO be facing a yet-to-be-chosen Democrat who has less than two years of incumbency in the post, and is also going to suffer by political association with Blagojevich (having been chosen most likely because the incumbent governor assumes he/she will be a political ally – just in case the feds in Chicago really do seek an indictment against him some time in the next couple of years).

If ever there would be a vulnerable candidate at a weak moment, it would be then.

There’s also the chance that since Illinois has two senators and the other would continue to be Richard Durbin (who just got re-elected to his third term and doesn’t need to worry about re-election until 2014), a Democrat.

There might be many people who would be partial to having one Democrat and one Republican from Illinois in the U.S. Senate.

OF COURSE, THERE’S the political “greed” of Chicago-area political people, who will fight aggressively to keep both Senate seats in the “Democrat” column. There are some Democrats who still remember what the Statehouse Scene in Springfield was like back in 1995-96 when the GOP controlled everything and who view the current Democrat control as the “setting right” of the way government should be.

So the desires of rural Illinois to have a high-ranking government official who might put their wishes first from time to time might not be enough to overcome the Chicago strong-arm that will inevitably come out in 2010 to try to keep both posts.

Birkett might become a three-time loser, regardless of which office he seeks. Which would mean we could put him in the books next to James Oberweis, who has managed to lose how many elections now for significant Illinois office?


EDITOR’S NOTES: There are pockets of Illinois where politically minded people yearn for the return ( of Republican officials to state government. Are there enough to give Joe Birkett a legitimate chance of electoral victory in 2010?

Birkett will find a 2010 campaign much tougher than his most recent bid on the ballot – he (,dupage-roundup-na110408.article) ran unopposed in last month’s DuPage County elections for a fourth term as state’s attorney.

Birkett’s e-mail ( seeking support in the next election comes at a time when Barack Obama is still sending out occasional e-mails seeking financial support to help finish off the previous election. These election seasons are bleeding into each other in a way that’s just ridiculous.


Anonymous said...

I have never heard of you (the writer) but anyone who watches Illinois politics would also put Joe in the AG race. Lisa is going to try to move up. It is allot cheaper to run for AG especially if it is not the speakers daughter he's running against. Joe has raised only 50,000 up to june.

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