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What “really” goes on at the Illinois State Fair

Monday, Aug 18, 2014

* My Crain’s editor said he’d read a Chicago newspaper article about Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair and complained that it lacked “color.” So, I was asked to use lots of color in my column

The Illinois State Fair’s “Director’s Lawn” is a tree-lined venue far from the corn dogs, grandstand concerts and beer tents.

The lawn spreads out in front of a rather dingy house used by the state’s director of agriculture, off a road marred by potholes and best accessed via a special gate that often is closed during the fair because there’s so little public parking. A million or so people attend the fair each year.

The grass on the lawn is trampled flat. But no events ever are as crowded as the annual Governor’s Day and the accompanying rally for the party out of power.

Even in this era of high-tech campaigns, the twin events unofficially kick off the governor’s race… Politicians high and low attend. The more important ones give speeches, the less important mill about and try to interest others in shaking their hands. Every major media outlet sends reporters.

There usually are four crowds. There’s the…

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- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Gathersno - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:13 am:

    Very colorful, Rich!

  2. - OneMan - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:17 am:

    Bruce seems to have good crowd skills for a first time candidate…

  3. - Sunshine - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:24 am:

    Very well presented.

    The colorful part for me was the painting of the four groups, particularly the young and enthusiastic and the “hacks.”

  4. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:25 am:

    I love the breakdown of the four groups.

    The theatre of it all is enjoyable to remove yourself from the pageantry and just “group watching”.

    Plus, there is something enjoyable about having “already been to the Circus” and seen the circus acts and slight of hand. I enjoy the practicing of politics being done well. It’s science and art.

    Thanks for pulling back the curtain a bit, Rich.

  5. - chad - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:31 am:

    As a long-time “hack in the back” (although I missed this in recent years), I think you did your editor proud with the color. I always get a kick out of seeing the awkward folks who were on the wrong side of a primary, the newly-empowered county GOP chairmen (who reign over vast, meaningful empires of underperforming volunteers and no patronage), and the fresh looks on the faces of young volunteers from the suburbs who have never been there before. Apparently somethings really do stay the same.

  6. - Stones - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:41 am:

    No doubt about it - the R’s smell blood in the water.

  7. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 8:48 am:

    Don’t forget a fifth group. The small, often off to the side or behind the trees, group of loyal opposition members (both days) watching who the various special interest groups are who are attending the “other guy’s day” and making sure those groups recieve the appropriation reception next session.

  8. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:02 am:

    Great article.

    You missed the fifth crowd. The press which swarmed all over Rauner and his motorcycle, blocking the entrance for the faithful and creating some hostility that almost got out of hand. You can see Rauner settling down the press in videos by urging the press to give everyone some space and to stop hitting people.

    I was there live and saw it in person. It was pretty ugly there for a short time.

  9. - Anonymoiis - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:06 am:

    “Hacks in the back” is stirring images in my mind of a rap song ala MC Hammers “Pumps and a Bump”

  10. - wordslinger - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:18 am:

    Louis, the press was hitting people?

  11. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:24 am:

    I’m not a big Bruce Rauner fan at all. I don’t know if I can trust him. That said, he or his campaign is really going to have to screw things up for him to lose. He has a lead and momentum and it seems to be building. If he and his people play it straight and not do anything foolish or rash, he will be very hard to beat come November. Pat Quinn is going to have to hope for a miracle. The problem with that is that he may have used up his “three wishes”, if you know what I mean.

  12. - VanillaMan - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:26 am:

    It is Kabuki theatre, yet as one who has been to dozens of these showings, you can get an overall feeling of what it was, based on symbols.

    There is a fresher feeling within the GOP that has been pumped up by the millions of its nominee. Unlike 2010, when the GOP felt duty bound to support Brady and accept a win - this year the GOP wants to win and is working to get it. Rauner may be an outsider to many, but to the folks watching this, he seems familiar and they are becoming comfortable thinking of him as governor. That is something Brady never got.

    The GOP in 2014 seems emotional after a robotic 2010. The GOPers who supported Brady half heartedly, weren’t emotional about him. Rauner brings out the emotions of these GOPers and a lot of them aren’t certain if they like it. They have rooted for the right losers for so long, they have become numb to their nominees. In 2014, Rauner has shaken up what was left of the Illinois Republican Party. Comatose GOP traditionalists are often still crabby about being stirred and awakened by Rauner. Not everyone likes the new emotional people who believe the Republicans can win. While they would like to see a win too - they only want a win which keeps them feeling relevant like they were before their long losing streak, now over a decade long and in many ways worsening.

  13. - Colossus - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:37 am:

    I didn’t attend this year’s festivities because I knew I would be too ‘cynical and morose’ to add anything to the atmosphere.

  14. - Nearly Normal - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:39 am:

    Sooo, how many of these young enthusiasts for Rauner are paid interns? I would imagine that there are more paid folks working for Bruce instead of Pat. College Republicans have bills to pay, too.

  15. - VanillaMan - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:41 am:

    I didn’t attend this year’s festivities because I knew I would be too ‘cynical and morose’ to add anything to the atmosphere.

    The solution to that is alcohol. The Fair has plenty of wine for the ladies and beer for the gentlemen. You need uplifting? You need a beer or three. Always works for me.

  16. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:42 am:

    @wordslinger: A number of hard stiff arms and shoving supporters away while jockeying for position, including knocking down one lady. This lead to a few push backs until Rauner acted as peacemaker. The lady was knocked into Rauner’s cycle. In one video of the scrum (perhaps the Sun-Times) you can hear “let’s move away from the motorcycle” from Rauner and a few others. They were moving the cycle away at the time.

  17. - Rich Miller - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:44 am:

    ===Sooo, how many of these young enthusiasts for Rauner are paid interns?===

    And your point is… what?

  18. - VanillaMan - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:46 am:

    I would imagine that there are more paid folks working for Bruce instead of Pat.

    Based on what facts can you make that claim? Have you done a survey?

  19. - Nearly Normal - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 9:55 am:

    Just asking.

  20. - walker - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 10:00 am:

    Wonderful. Color and insights galore.

    You might have thrown in a few scents in the wind just to complete the package.

  21. - Levois - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 10:33 am:

    It was certainly good to know that there was some excitement around Mr. Rauner during the state fair. Probably not enough for Gov. Quinn, however, the election isn’t going to be held during the state fair. The campaign will start in earnest so we will see who will have the advantage and soon.

  22. - zatoichi - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 10:42 am:

    You left off the fair goers drifting from the cow barns, seeing a group gathering, and sensing more free fair stuff. Several years ago I drifted into Republican day, acted like I cared, hit the meal/beer line, listened to some speeches and wandered on. Just part of the Fair.

  23. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    I agree with Rich, Nearly Normal.

    Typical results for a Saturday:


    Three hours at the doors.
    75 doors
    25 contacts
    10 pluses
    No yard signs or volunteers

    Six hours at the doors
    200 doors
    60 contacts
    30 pluses
    10 yard signs
    1 volunteer prospect

    Those are the results for a good volunteer btw, which is about 1/3.

  24. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 11:11 am:

    BTW, Rich: Great Column.

    Many make the mistake of predicting the outcome of the race based solely on how things stand in Midsummer.

    Still, it is a bit concerning for Quinn’s camp that the “hacks in the back” give him little chance of winning. Those are the folks that Quinn’s campaign ought to be partnering with.

    Team Quinn wanted Rauner as their opponent for a reason, and presumably they have a plan to beat him. They ought to share that plan with their closest allies.

  25. - wordslinger - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 11:23 am:

    –Team Quinn wanted Rauner as their opponent for a reason, and presumably they have a plan to beat him. –

    I’ve seen that before, and if it’s true, Team Quinn’s political instincts are whack.

    Why would you want an empty vessel with unlimited funds instead of a Brady, Rutherford or Dillard? Any of those other three were scarier than Rauner, how?

  26. - Sir Reel - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 12:10 pm:

    Spot on.

    Don’t forget the nearby line of charter buses that brought the “crowd?” usually with their diesel motors running, adding to the general din of the fairgrounds.

  27. - Sir Reel - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 12:12 pm:

    Meant to add “general din and smells of the fairgrounds.”

  28. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 12:59 pm:

    The “old timers” will tell you about the days under The Mayor when train tracks ran into the fairgrounds and would bring trailoads of Chicago Dems to the fairgrounds for the rally. Seems that ended sometime in the last 60s but they will tell you it was a sight.

  29. - steve schnorf - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 1:28 pm:

    proud to have been a hack in the back

  30. - LisleMike - Monday, Aug 18, 14 @ 1:56 pm:

    Rich is spot on with the four types. I have been a little of each. Last year I was a true believer and while handing out literature for Dillardduring a big influx of attendees, I inadvertantly handed one to Dan Rutherford, whom I know very well. He smiled and handed it back and said “I already know Kirk!” as he smacked me on the back. I then retreated to the hack in the back group where I was more comfortable. Once I tired of them I worked the crowd for friends I knew from other areas. I am feeling my 66 years of age now and so future days should find me sitting up front to see the candidates a little clearer and get off my feet for a change!!!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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