ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
by RUSS STEWART
Illinoisans have no cause to be modest. The state’s legislators are unquestionably the best that money can buy, and Bruce Rauner, Mike Madigan and John Cullerton spent a combined $100 million to purchase them in 2016.
The second most underreported Springfield political story of 2016 is that the governor got more bang for his bucks while the speaker got his proverbial clock cleaned, losing his precious House super majority. Madigan’s Democratic majority dropped from 71-47 to 67-51. The Madigan-funded Democratic candidate lost to the Rauner-funded Republican in seven of the nine most fiercely contested races.
The most underreported story is incumbent Republican Mike McAuliffe’s victory in the 20th Illinois House District, where $4.5 million was spent and where McAuliffe won by 5,663 votes. “It was a catastrophe” for Madigan, crowed McAuliffe, the speaker’s top target. “Voters rejected Madigan, and Madigan-backed candidates lost,” McAuliffe added. While the Democrats overperformed statewide, with Hillary Clinton winning by 943,048 votes for president and Tammy Duckworth winning by 758,264 votes for U.S. senator, they underperformed in legislative races.
20th District (Northwest Side, northwest suburbs): “I was supposed to be the ‘Dead Man Walking’,” McAuliffe joked, saying that that’s how Democratic legislators and staffers, and lobbyists, referred to him in Springfield. “They figured when Madigan wants to beat somebody, he beats them. They figured if Madigan spends $2 million, and if they tied me to Trump and Rauner, I couldn’t win. They figured they could call me a ‘career politician’ and beat me.”
Madigan dispatched “The General,” Alderman Marty Quinn, from his home 13th Ward to run Merry Marwig’s campaign. Quinn is Madigan’s chief political honcho. “The legend is that ‘The General’ never loses,” McAuliffe said. (As an aside, Quinn ran Tom Benigno’s campaign for Norridge mayor in 2013, and lost handily. He is expected to run Benigno’s 2017 rematch with incumbent James Chmura.) Nevertheless, despite an avalanche of money, manpower and scurrilously deceitful mailings, McAuliffe prevailed. The final vote was 25,387-19,724, as McAuliffe got 56.3 percent of the vote.
The district contains 84 precincts, and McAuliffe astoundingly won 60 of them. There are 41 precincts in Chicago, including 34 in the 41st Ward, McAuliffe’s political base, and seven in the 38th Ward, where Alderman Nick Sposato worked hard for Marwig at Quinn’s behest. In a turnout of 21,341, McAuliffe won Chicago 12,503-8,838, getting 58.6 percent of the vote. In the 41st Ward, where both candidates reside, McAuliffe in Oriole Park and Marwig in Norwood Park, McAuliffe won 31 of 34 precincts, 13 with more than 60 percent of the vote and one with more than 70 percent. That’s a blowout.
In the 38th Ward, which runs along Cumberland Avenue, McAuliffe won 1,433-1,044, getting 57.8 percent of the vote and winning six of seven precincts.
State Representative Marty Moylan (D-55), who represents the neighboring Des Plaines-Park Ridge district, said that he got a lot of anti-Trump feedback when he was knocking on doors during the campaign. “Republicans are not supporting (Trump),” he said. McAuliffe said that he avoided any connection with or mention of Trump and focused on selling himself. On Nov. 8 there was no Trump undertow, and no Clinton-Duckworth-Susana Mendoza-Marwig gender surge. In the suburbs, women didn’t vote only for women — much to Marwig’s chagrin.
Marwig’s television ads proclaimed that McAuliffe was “as extreme as Trump,” and a Madigan-Marwig billboard truck drove around the district for nearly a month with signs urging a vote for “the Trump-McAuliffe Republican team.” It didn’t work.
McAuliffe won the 43 suburban precincts 13,236-11,304, getting 53.9 percent, of the vote in a turnout of 24,540, and he won 20 of the 43 precincts. McAuliffe won Maine Township’s 22 precincts, of which 18 are in north Park Ridge and four are in Des Plaines, 7,024-6,697 in a turnout of 13,721. He won Leyden Township’s 11 precincts, which include Park Ridge south of Devon Avenue, Rosemont and parts of Schiller Park and Norridge, 2,834-2,438 in a turnout of 5,272. Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens’ political machine was effective. McAuliffe won Norwood Park Township’s eight precincts, which include Harwood Heights and some of Norridge, 2,942-1,783 in a 4,725 turnout. McAuliffe won Niles 436-386.
Madigan’s anti-McAuliffe onslaught failed for two reasons. First, it is difficult if not impossible, to demonize an iconic political name and a likable incumbent within a 1-year time frame. The McAuliffe name has been on the ballot 44 times since 1972, twice each in 22 primary and election cycles over 44 years. Roger McAuliffe held the seat from 1972 to 1996, when he died in a boating accident. His son Mike won the seat in 1996 and emulated his father, attending to business and avoiding controversy. Over 20 years McAuliffe built up a reservoir of good will and developed a reputation as a hard-working and accessible office holder.
After all, how could any Republican from Chicago be a “career politician”? The only Chicago Republican office holders are McAuliffe and Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), and they exist from election to election. McAuliffe has never exceeded 60 percent of the vote in his 10 re-elections, and how could Madigan, who’s been in Springfield since 1970, believably disparage anybody for being a “career politician”?
Second, the more negative Madigan and Marwig went, the less support she drew. McAuliffe said that while he was campaigning people would ask him who Marwig is, where she comes from, and where was she getting all that money? From Labor Day on, Marwig was bombarding every household with three or four mailers per week, half of which were negative.
Mark Twain popularized the phrase that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. The 20th District’s mailboxes were flooded with Marwig lies, despicable lies and outright fabrications. For example, one mailer darkly accused McAuliffe of voting to “allow sexual predators” on school grounds. The bill, which passed almost unanimously, allowed a convicted parent who had a child in school, with administrators’ consent, to enter and watch that child in a school play or sports event. Another mailer said that McAuliffe was somehow sympathetic toward rapists and domestic abusers. The “proof” was McAuliffe’s 2014 vote against Pat Quinn’s budget to provide increased funding for social service agencies’ rape and domestic violence counseling, and rape kits and violence shelters. Another rap was that McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was a “liar” because he sent a letter that contained the phrase “fellow veterans.” McAuliffe never served in the military. There is a scintilla of truth. Also, as a 20-year incumbent with no other vocation, McAuliffe is by definition a “career politician.”
The Republicans slammed back, grinding out three or four mailers a week and posting pricey ads on network television, even during Bears and Cubs games. One ad had McAuliffe’s wife attesting to what a great husband he was, and most mailers had pictures of his young family. Marwig has no kids. Every second mailer emphasized two somewhat nebulous “Madigan connections.” One was that Marwig moved into the 41st Ward from Wicker Park in 2013 and got her property taxes lowered twice; Madigan’s law office handles such tax reductions. The other was that Madigan once gave $188,000 to a state representative convicted of child pornography and gave money to her. One also said that Marwig “lied” about her college class ranking. Again, a scintilla of truth.
However, because of the vagaries of state campaign laws, neither side could factually accuse the other of taking “Rauner money” or “Madigan money.” It’s all done with cutouts and laundering. Big donors, whether corporate political action committees or unions, donate to the state parties, thereby cleansing it. The state Democratic Party, run by Madigan, and the state Republican Party, controlled by Rauner, use that largesse to design, print and mail negative pieces in top-tier races and pay for television ads. Hence, nobody can tie the candidate to some noxious donor.
“It backfired,” McAuliffe said. “Voters just didn’t believe what they said about me.” McAuliffe said that Madigan and his Democrats “conjure up” issues. “They do polling,” he said. “They find what voters are thinking, what they want.” Then, he said, they find or fabricate something in the Republican’s background that is contrary to their polling. The theory is that if one lies long enough and loud enough, the lies will be accepted as truth.
I asked a Marwig worker during early voting if he was working for Madigan. “I am a volunteer,” he smoothly replied, showing all the earmarks of being a paid and programmed Madigan operative. “Won’t (Marwig) be a puppet of Madigan in Springfield?” I asked. “She is a businesswoman and will be an independent, not a career politician,” he replied. “But isn’t Madigan bankrolling her campaign?” I asked. “The Democratic Party is paying for it,” he replied. Of course, a kernel of truth.
I asked McAuliffe if it is over. “They’ll be back,” he replied, either with Marwig or someone else in 2018. The great irony is that the 2016 vote of 25,387-19,724, in which $4.5 million was spent, was exactly 6,363 votes more than the 2012 vote of 23,462-15,286, in which under $60,000 was spent. The 2016 cost per vote was about $1,000. In effect, Madigan spent $2 million to get 4,438 more votes.
The greater irony is that 70 of the 118 House districts were uncontested, with about $60 million spent in 20 districts. At $3 million per district, that’s definitely the best that money can buy.
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART