Will She or Won't She

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has a big decision to make.

Does she take the safe road and remain the state’s top lawyer or does she risk all her political capital on a competitive gubernatorial campaign?

Conventional wisdom has suggested that she will enter the Democratic primary for governor this year, carve a narrow path to victory against Bill Daley and Pat Quinn and then go on to cruise past the Republican candidate in 2014. However, as the first public opinion polls have trickled out, it has become clear that Lisa Madigan has significant roadblocks ahead if she is to become Illinois’s first female governor in 2015.

Madigan and her political team have seen more data than what has already been released to the public. The fact that she has not made an announcement yet leads me to believe that her team has serious doubts about her ability to win based on their analysis of the political environment. If there were only minor issues facing her campaign, she would throw her name in now and start chipping away at the negative media perceptions.

There are three broad areas of weakness that surround Lisa Madigan’s potential run for governor:

1) Her family name. Outside of his Chicago district, Lisa’s father is despised by members of both parties. Mike Madigan has been the most influential politician in Illinois for more than three decades. Illinois’s rapid decline in economic activity, social mobility and fiscal health have coincided with Madigan’s reign as Speaker of the Illinois House. His shadow will haunt his daughter’s campaign because of the lousy legacy he is leaving behind. Plus, if Mike Madigan refuses to retire, Lisa Madigan will have to convince voters to allow one family to rule two of the three branches of state government.

2) Her lack of competitive election experience. This may seem like a silly critique considering her families place in Illinois politics. However, Madigan has only endured one competitive election in her career. The rest were cake walks requiring very little effort or campaigning. It has been more than a decade since she faced a real test on the ballot. Now, after years of cruising to victories, she will have the endure a long primary battle with at least two serious candidates, one of whom is the incumbent. If she survives the primary, a battered Madigan will have a diminished brand to take into the 7 month slug fest against a Republican candidate who is likely to muster a very expensive campaign. Is Lisa Madigan really prepared to endure more than 15 months of bruising competition after a decade of easy campaigns? Can she hold up under the spotlight?

3) Likability. Lisa Madigan is not a very likable person. No offense intended here, I am just stating the obvious. She is serious person who comes across on television as a attorney from Law and Order’s central casting. While this persona is fine for other endeavors, voters tend to want more warmth from their gubernatorial candidates. Madigan is also a known quantity for most voters. She has been in the public eye and on the ballot for more than a decade so perceptions about her have been solidified. There is not much room for a reintroduction of her to the voting public, nor a redefining of her image. Her likability numbers are fairly good right now; but, since she is so widely known those numbers are probably as high as they are going to get. Once the negative campaigning begins, those numbers will fall from their current high points.

Politics is also about matchups. Most analysts acknowledge that Madigan will match up well against any of the Republican challengers in a state that has a liberal bent to it’s electorate. However, the primary matchup is much less favorable for her. Pat Quinn has won all of his campaigns because of pure enthusiasm, a weird nerd-charm and his long term relationship with Illinois voters…most of whom have met him in person at least twice. Bill Daley is less appealing, but will have a strong fundraising team and a sophisticated campaign staff backing him up. Madigan will have to figure out how to cobble together a Democratic coalition in the primary that is large enough to elbow out either Quinn or Daley. She could do this by racking up big numbers downstate, but Quinn has proven an ability to counter with strong loyalty from Chicago and suburban Cook County voters. What can either Lisa Madigan or Bill Daley do to win over those voters that Dan Hynes didn’t in 2010?

Finally, Madigan may be facing some additional head winds in the 2014 election cycle. While it is far to early to predict trends, history would suggest that 2014 will probably not be a good year for Democrats running for the House and Senate. The same was true in 2010 when Pat Quinn narrowly beat Bill Brady; but, Lisa Madigan will probably not have the luxury of facing an awkward Republican and she more closely resembles Alexi Giannoulias, who did lose his Senate bid.

These are just a few of many factors that Lisa Madigan and her team are pondering this July as they decide what to do next.

If Madigan runs for governor, her Attorney General seat will open up and a free-for-all will ensue in both parties to jockey for position in that race. With Dan Rutherford already in the race, we know the Treasurer’s seat will be open so this would make two vacant statewide constitutional offices.

If she chooses not to run, more names could pop up in the governor’s race as eager State Representatives and State Senators look to make a bigger profile for themselves.

Let’s also keep in mind that Lisa Madigan is only 46 years old. She can be relevant and viable in Illinois politics for several decades to come. She could hold onto her current office indefinitely while she waits for the right year to seek a Senate seat or the Governorship.

So what will it be? Is Lisa in or out?

We will find out in the next couple weeks.

If I were her political adviser, I would tell her not to run. As a Chicago Young Republican, I hope she runs, gets blown out in the Democratic primary and is relegated to the dungeon of the state Democratic Party, killing her Illinois political future. I know our guys can beat Daley or Quinn and I know the future of our state will be better when someone other than a Madigan assumes leadership in Springfield.

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