Lots of people are having trouble getting their heads around the fact that Republican state Sen. Bill Brady may well be our next governor. This is, after all, a Democratic state.
But it’s way past time to consider Brady a very real, even likely probability. Gov. Pat Quinn’s poll numbers, along with the economy and the state budget, are in the dumper. Scott Lee Cohen likely will target African-American voters and badly damage Quinn’s chances. The Green Party’s candidate won’t help, either. And almost $2 million spent on negative TV ads attacking Brady on abortion, health care and the minimum wage haven’t yet worked.
I’ve told you this before, but I think it’s even clearer now. This campaign looks more and more every day like the 1980 presidential campaign between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. We have the decent, honest person who can’t seem to run a government up against a conservative guy whom all the liberals love to hate.
Carter, remember, relished the opportunity to run against Reagan because he thought Reagan would be the easiest Republican to beat. Carter and friends vastly underestimated Reagan, believing him to be a telegenic empty suit with an actor’s smile and dangerously out of step positions.
And Reagan had to clear a hurdle that Brady doesn’t have to worry about. The nuclear button. Once voters decided that Reagan wasn’t crazy enough to blow up the world, they were more willing to give him a shot at the top office. Whatever Brady does as governor, he probably can’t end civilization as we know it.
But it’s not just current polls, spoiler candidates, a failed paid media strategy and an eery American history parallel that point us in Brady’s direction. The Republicans are surprisingly united behind Brady’s candidacy. That’s something few would have believed the morning after the primary, when the state woke up to discover that Brady led his fellow state Sen. Kirk Dillard - the “regular” Republicans’ candidate - by a tiny handful of votes.
The Republicans have been in disarray since George Ryan’s downfall. Jim Thompson gave a less than rousing speech at the Governor’s Day festivities during the 2002 state fair for fellow Republican Jim Ryan, then ended up co-chairing Democratic victor Rod Blagojevich’s transition team. Longtime Republican moneybags Bill Cellini moved in Blagojevich’s direction almost before the last Republican had filed out of the fairgrounds that year. Four years ago, the party’s right wing ridiculed Judy Baar Topinka’s candidacy, and the party never really unified behind her.
The GOP is fully engaged this time, however. The regulars are almost all on board. The right is pleased as punch that they have one of their own on the ticket. And the moderate Republicans are so happy that their party has a real shot at winning that they’ve hardly spoken a discouraging word.
Their party is hungry for victory, but most did their best at the state fair last week to not show how ravenously starved they really are. Their criticisms were pointed, but mostly measured.
Meanwhile, it occurred to me as I watched Quinn’s speech at the Illinois State Fair’s Governor’s Day event that the guy wouldn’t recognize a campaign theme if it was bleeding to death on his front lawn.
Voters need simplicity. When they think about a candidate for major office, one word or short phrase needs to come to their minds. “Hope,” “Change,” “It’s the economy, stupid,” “What’s she thinking?” etc.
But Quinn is just all over the place, not only with his attacks on Brady, but in his defense of his own governance. One minute, he’s whacking Brady for not paying his taxes, the next he’s talking about the new jobs at Ford, the next he’s whacking Brady on some social issue or for missing a vote, the next, he’s holding a news conference to sign some obscure bill.
The scattershot approach may be satisfying to some partisans, who want their governor to provide as many reasons as possible to support him and deliver as many hits as possible on the other side, but if you can’t tie it up with a unifying ribbon, then this stuff will just go over everybody else’s head. It’s just background noise, and that’s no way to deliver an effective message.
Quinn just hired a new media consultant, so we’ll see if anything changes. If Quinn wants to win, it had better.