Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Madigan Skips Democrat Day at Illinois State Fair

The House Speaker misses a chance to stump for Gov. Pat Quinn

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's Democrat Day at the Illinois State Fair.

    On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers congregated in Springfield for a brunch (and photo-op) that attracted about 1,400 people. Afterward the group descended upon the fairgrounds to continue a show of solidarity with Quinn, who's facing a tough re-election challenge from GOP nominee Bruce Rauner.

    U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was there. So too were U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth and Quinn running mate Paul Vallas, who addressed the string of corporate scandals related to Rauner's former private equity firm, GTCR.

    Conspicuously absent? Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. He didn't show up last year, either.

    The Springfield ringmaster -- who's viewed as a shadow governor of sorts, the real power broker running the show -- is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Given his high rank, you'd think Madigan would be there with bells on, the first to arrive and the last to leave. His no-show carries a whiff of possible tension with Quinn. (The governor denied any discord to the Chicago Sun-Times.)

    "I want to be a champion of everyday people who live paycheck to paycheck," Quinn said in his Democrat Day speech. "I want to fight hard for the 99.99 percent. I think all of us understand a lot of important causes are at stake in this election, things we believe in."

    Durbin said he was "one Powerball ticket away from having the same money" as GOP rival Jim Oberweis, the dairy magnate, and Rauner, a multi-millionaire with nine homes.

    The party aims to maintain its grip on this blue state as Rauner gains ground over Quinn in a hotly contested, increasingly expensive race that the National Republican Party has its eye on as one to win. Quinn-related voter fatique remains high, and re-election-seeking state Democrats have worried about being guilty by association. It's electoral crunch time, and candidates are ramping up a focus on politically trendy class issues like the growing wealth gap, the minimum wage and Rauner's bajillions in an effort to rally the base before November.

    "There’s nobody in Illinois who can run a grassroots campaign like I can," Quinn said at Democrat Day last summer. "I'm not afraid of big money, big-time lobby groups. I think I can win ... with the kind of campaign people in Illinois will admire."

    After losing the White House in 2012, and with midterms on the horizon, Republicans are stepping up the kind of in-the-field voter outreach that Democrats have succeeded at for years. Last week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus touted a "permanent ground game" to rehab the party's image, woo extra voters and seize the Senate.

    Quinn for the second year in a row decided not to stage a Democrat Day rally. In 2012, the governor endured a barrage of boos from union members protesting pension reform.

    The State Fair's Republican Day is slated for Thursday and a rally is planned. Last year, Rauner showed up to Republican Day on a Harley-Davidson, just like the regular guy that he is.