Potential Attorney General Candidates Respond to Speculation Over Madigan's Departure

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s revelation that she would not seek a fifth term in office sent shockwaves through Illinois’ political circles, with several names floated as potential candidates for the high-profile job shortly after the announcement.

There’s just one declared candidate in the race so far – Republican Erika Harold, an attorney and former Miss America who ran for Congress downstate in 2013 and announced her intent to run against Madigan last month.

While Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will likely put millions into the campaign as he seeks to prop up his own reelection effort, there’s still uncertainty as to just who the GOP candidate may be.

Former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross is among those who have been urged to throw a hat in the ring, though an insider revealed that “people are asking, but he is not that interested.”

Likewise, it's no for current House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, according to a spokesman, as well as for DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.

On the Democratic side, the field appears wider.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, who has represented Chicago’s South Side since 2004, has long eyed the position and was one of the first Democrats whose names circulated as speculation grows.

“My phone has not stopped ringing, and I’ve been getting a lot of text messages,” he said Friday. “They’ve all been encouraging me, and they’ve all been asking me where to pick up petitions.”

Adding to the incentive for Raoul – his Senate seat is not on the ballot until 2020, meaning he would not need to give up his current position to run, and would be able to return to the legislature if he were to lose.

That choice is one that Democratic strategist Ron Holmes said may end up dissuading several potential candidates in the coming weeks.

"A lot of folks are going to claim interest but ultimately back off once they see what it takes to put together a statewide run, and more importantly what they would have to give up,” Holmes said.

“This has been Kwame's ideal job for a while and he wouldn't have to give up his senate seat. I doubt we see any sitting members of the House run on the D side,” he continued, adding that Reps. Elgie Sims and Rob Martwick would be “a long shot” and that Durkin is an “interesting choice.”

“For me, I wonder if in the year of the woman and with so many women leaving Illinois politics, could we see Kim Foxx step up?” he asked, floating the first African-American female Cook County State’s Attorney as a potential replacement for the first female Illinois Attorney General.

Foxx has declined to comment on Madigan’s announcement, but Holmes listed off several factors that may make a run more probable, citing her $250,000 in campaign cash on hand, her high favorable ratings in county-wide polling, and the ability to say she’s run a law office.

While Foxx has remained silent, state Rep. Ann Williams, a former assistant attorney general under Madigan who has represented Chicago’s North Side since 2011, said the lack of female candidates in the conversation has led her to consider a run.

“I'm concerned that there have been very few women mentioned as possible contenders for the seat,” she said. “That means there would be only one independently elected woman on the Democratic statewide ticket. And we are losing more and more strong women leaders in the legislature - this is a troubling trend at a time where issues important to women have been under unprecedented attack on the federal level. So yes, I'm taking a preliminary look and talking to other women leaders as well.”

Another woman who could potentially fit that bill is Democratic State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who said she's seriously considering running. In July, Nekritz announced she would not seek to keep her Buffalo Grove seat in 2018, but on Sunday, said, "I never intended to retire from working on the issues I care about." 

Nekritz said she had no inkling that Madigan would say she was not going to run again, and the decision set off a flurry of speculation as the primary is just six months away.

Nekritz said her attorney is drafting petitions so that once she decides it's a definite go, she'll be ready to collect signatures to get what is likely going to be a multi-million dollar race off the ground. 

Also considering a run from the Illinois legislature is state Sen. Michael Hastings, who was first elected in 2012 to represent a south suburban district that includes parts of Matteson, Frankfort, New Lenox and more.

Sources said Hastings, a former U.S. Army Captain who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, is making calls about a possible run for attorney general – and like Raoul, he would not have to give up his seat.

A third potential candidate from the upper chamber is state Sen. Ira Silverstein, who sources said is also interested in the position.

Silverstein has served in the General Assembly since 1999, representing a district that includes portions of Chicago’s Northwest Side and surrounding suburbs.

As Majority Caucus Chair, Silverstein is the only potential candidate so far who is a member of Senate leadership, and he is up for reelection in 2018 – meaning he would need to choose between running for AG or to keep his seat.

Also from the statehouse, state Rep. Chris Welch did not explicitly say that he was looking into the position – but he also did not rule out a run.

“Obviously, this is quite unexpected,” Welch said. “Lisa Madigan has been a champion of working people as our AG, and I'm extremely flattered that so many people have put my name forward as a possible replacement. I'm humbled. I look forward to my continued service to the constituents of my district.”

In a similar vein, Chicago Park District President Jesse Ruiz left the door open to speculation, saying, “I believe today we should focus on honoring Attorney General Lisa Madigan for her dedicated public service to the people of Illinois. In the coming days there will be plenty of time to talk about who is now running for Illinois attorney general.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks are also potential Democratic candidates, while even former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has been rumored to be considering the position.

Though the field of potential candidates is wide now, it’s expected to thin quickly, as candidates will have to make their decisions in time to fundraise, circulate nominating petitions and campaign statewide ahead of the primary on March 20.

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