Midterm Elections: Illinois Democrats Worried About Quinn Liability

Political operatives are wringing their hands over the governor's dismal approval rating

Forget President Obama. It's Pat Quinn that Illinois Democrats should worry about, say operatives within the party.

With Quinn's approval ratings in the tank -- only House Speaker Mike Madigan is more loathed -- some Democratic strategists are wringing their hands over the possibility that Quinn could drag down candidates in November's midterms.

The Quinn Administration is under seige by an embarrassing pile-up of probes into the governor's failed anti-violence program that Republicans have labeled a "political slush fund." GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner has pounced on the unraveling controversy -- blasting Quinn as a same-old career politician and heir apparent to Rod Blagojevich -- but he's no angel himself.

See the Winnetka businessman's tax-avoidance strategy that's allowed Quinn to play up income inequality issues and cast Rauner as an out-of-touch villain. See also: This, this and this. Oh wait, there's more.

Still, Rauner's own campaign-derailing problems are of no assurance to Democrats hoping to maintain a stronghold in blue-state Illinois.

"It's still long ways off, and lots of things can happen, but we have an enthusiasm problem. Really, in our job as Democrats, we have to do a better job of defining Rauner and what the world looks like with a Rauner administration,” an anonymous operative tells The Hill's Jessica Taylor. "Am I concerned? You bet."

Another gripes: "Obviously, Quinn is very unpopular, and that's a big issue. You always have to take the top of the ticket into account when you look at these races ... It is what it is. It's one of those uncontrollable factors that a Democratic candidate or a group trying to help them has no control over. You hope for the best."

Here in the Land of Lincoln, there are several hotly contested congressional races up for grabs: Brad Schneider versus the GOP's Bob Dold, running to reclaim his former seat in the north suburban 10th district, where Rauner has been polling ahead of Quinn. Incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos of the 17th district is facing a rematch with Republican Bobby Schilling, whom she ousted in 2012. Rep. Bill Enyart, of Carbondale, confronts a challenge from Republican state representative Mike Bost.

“We can tie Quinn to every single congressional race," says a Republican operative to Taylor, who nonetheless sees a silver lining in the form of Sen. Dick Durbin, a respected figure on Illinois' political stage.

Could Durbin, running for re-election himself, help buoy the prospects for fellow Democrats all by his lonesome? Durbin's support, visually and financially, would only benefit their campaigns but that might not be a good-enough substitute for the endorsement of a popular governor.

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