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Annual State Fair Democrat Day rally canceled

Monday, Jul 31, 2017

[This post has been bumped up from Friday to Monday for easier display and comments are now open.]

* Mostly true…


* Democrat Day itself has not been canceled. Party members will still get their free tickets to the fair just like Republicans will on Governor’s Day. But the traditional noontime rally has been canceled.

Steve Brown told me part of the problem with Democrat Day over the years was that the same people make pretty much the same speeches at both the county party chairman’s brunch and then at the state fairgrounds rally a couple of hours or so later. It gets boring and repetitive and kinda pointless. It can be a real drag sitting in the hot sun listening to the same speech you just heard at brunch.

So, it looks like this could be the end of a very long era. I don’t know how far back the tradition goes, but it’s a very long time. Back in the day, the first Mayor Daley would send trainloads of people to the fair. It used to be a huge deal, but the rally crowds for both parties have seemed to taper off in recent years and I don’t think that Speaker Madigan likes doing it, either. Maybe it’ll restart if the Democrats elect a governor again, whenever that might be, because then Madigan won’t have to be in charge.

* From a Crain’s column I wrote back in 2014

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, despite the fairgrounds’ somewhat rundown appearance. 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 “true believers,” young men and women who work or volunteer for the candidates. They wear matching T-shirts, carry signs and fire up the crowds by cheering or shouting slogans on command.

Then there are the “older believers,” folks who aren’t nearly as youthful or fired up but still strongly support their candidates. They sit in the front section with a clear view of the stage.

The “space-fillers” mostly are bused in to increase the crowd. They sit where they can’t see the speakers, either behind the stands for the news media or off to the side under a canvas tent. They chat among themselves and enjoy the free food.

The fourth group is the “hacks in the back.” These are the political professionals, high-level campaign operatives, lobbyists and legislators. They’ve heard enough speeches, so they gossip at the rear of the lawn near the free beer.

No more free beer and hot dogs and politicking on the Director’s Lawn this year, at least for the Democrats.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

11 Comments
  1. - Curl of the Burl - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 8:56 am:

    So what I get out of this is that Madigan can no longer find pants that hike up closer to his armpits.


  2. - Keyrock - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:06 am:

    My dad was a precinct captain in Cook County in the ’60’s. I rode the bus in with him to the fair a couple of times. My favorite part was a guy doing a demonstration of using a jet pack to soar into the air. I wondered if we would all have them someday.

    We’ll probably all have jet packs before we have good, honest, efficient state government.


  3. - illini - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:15 am:

    I have attended several times over the past 20 years and Rich is absolutely correct about the four different crowds. Interesting dynamics at the fairgrounds.

    Yet, like Rich, the only thing I would miss is the free beer and hotdogs.


  4. - Joe Bidenopolous - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:21 am:

    Isn’t the Governor staying at the Director’s residence while the mansion is under renovation? That and the fact that session could still be dragging on would seem to be plausible reasons for cancelling as well. It’ll look pretty bad if there’s no education bill done by governor’s day.


  5. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:22 am:

    The political days have outlived their purpose. Back in the day, it might have been the only time you saw other members of your party and caught up on the news. Today, with social media, there is no need to travel to get the latest.

    The “good old days” of going to the director’s lawn then spending the rest of the day in a beer tent or the Grandstand watching the horses seem to be over.

    Rod’ first fair as Gov. was one of the largest political days I’ve ever seen. Since then, attendance has been dropping.


  6. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:30 am:

    I think about 17% of this decision might be that Rauner lives on the Grounds.

    The luncheon serves its purpose.

    I’d like to see both rallies back as soon as possible.


  7. - FLEA - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 9:32 am:

    Poe’s catering will miss out on the revenue for that event…oh well.


  8. - Tough Guy - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 10:28 am:

    I wonder if Roland Burris will retire his cowboy hat now? Haven’t seen it at the D-Day luncheon event for several years anyway.


  9. - zatoichi - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 10:39 am:

    I have been to several Rep and Dem days because I happen to be at the fair for other events. They were OK as a nice way to see the people whose names are heard/read about. Always ran into people I knew who came for the drinks and eats. Speeches….not exactly crowd roaring motivators. I usually left after 1-2 big names and a box lunch.


  10. - d.p.gumby - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 11:12 am:

    Thank you! Unless there is a big name guest, it is a dog day afternoon in the worst sense!


  11. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Jul 31, 17 @ 11:31 am:

    Dem/Rep day was always a nice test to see whether campaigns have their act together. If a campaign couldn’t perform well at D-Day, it was often a bad sign of things to come. I don’t like this decision.


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