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*** UPDATED x1 *** Z returns

Monday, Dec 11, 2017

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

If you were worried that House Republican Leader Jim Durkin wasn’t taking his primary race seriously enough, think again.

As you already may know, Leader Durkin is being challenged by Burr Ridge Mayor Mickey Straub, who has backing from conservative activist Dan Proft and Operating Engineers Union Local 150. It’s a bizarre duo teaming up in an unprecedented attempt to take out a Republican legislative leader. Durkin is the favorite, but one doesn’t want to take any chances in these trying times.

So, Durkin has brought in the highly capable Mike Zolnierowicz to handle things on his campaign. Mike Z, as he’s known in political circles, was Gov. Bruce Rauner’s deputy campaign manager, then his first chief of staff, then ran Rauner’s massive campaign apparatus until this past July. Zolnierowicz resigned during Rauner’s Great Summer Staff Purge (and eventual re-purge) of 2017 and joined Xpress Professional Services as its political director.

Z simply could not stay around after Rauner pushed out most of the people he had brought in (including his replacement as chief of staff, Richard Goldberg) and replaced them with what turned out to be incompetent ideologues.

After allowing Proft the field to himself for the past several weeks, Durkin’s campaign is now running two new cable TV ads. One is a positive spot that appears designed to address questions about his record raised by Proft’s group.

“Jim Durkin’s record?” the ad begins, “Durkin stood up to [House Speaker Michael Madigan’s] machine, his tax increase, his unbalanced budgets. Now Jim’s pushing property tax cuts. He knows we need relief. Jim Durkin, fighting for families against Madigan’s tax hikes.”

Z didn’t pioneer the use of anti-Madigan themes. That’s been around for decades. But he’s the one who made those attacks ubiquitous with Rauner’s money in the 2014 campaign and all the way through the 2016 election, when the Republicans impressively took away four seats from the House Democrats in a presidential cycle. And Z was planning to do it again until he decided to leave Team Rauner.

The second, negative TV spot against Straub also brings in Madigan, and uses Local 150’s support for Straub against the candidate.

“Ever met Mickey Straub? Don’t bother. You already know the man behind ‘Madigan Mickey,’” the narrator says as a black-and-white photo of Speaker Madigan is shown on screen.

“That’s why Madigan and his union allies are revving up the Chicago machine to grease the skids for Mickey Straub,” the narrator then says, as a reference to my syndicated column in the Sun-Times about Local 150’s support for Straub is displayed. “Say No to Madigan Mickey.”

There’s also a mailer designed to warn voters that a “Million dollar Madigan front group is backing Mickey Straub.” And the Durkin folks have started a new website, “Straub’s campaign is being supported by a Chicago special interest group that’s funneled more than $1 million to Mike Madigan and wants to raise your taxes even higher,” a message on the front page says.

“And it’s no surprise they want to hike Illinois’ Gas Tax by 15 cents per gallon. They even suggested that Illinois drivers should be taxed for every mile they drive…as much as $65 per month for the average family.”

I don’t know about the cost estimate, but the union has been advocating for just such a pay-by-the-mile plan during the last year or so. Ironically enough, Z worked with a coalition of road builders and Local 150 on a constitutional amendment question last year.

The website also previews some other likely attacks against Straub, including campaign fines that he allegedly didn’t pay until he decided to run for the House, and four unbalanced Burr Ridge budgets.

So, considering that Gov. Rauner funds most of Durkin’s political operation, does Z’s hiring signal that the GOP establishment in this state is finally starting to patch things up after that huge July crackup?

I wouldn’t go that far. But with Rauner’s Republican primary opponent Rep. Jeanne Ives already giving Rauner fits (just look at his bizarre “I am not in charge” press conference last week if you need proof) and Proft looking to pick off House Republican incumbents who voted for the tax hike as well as win some vacant seats, they gotta start somewhere, and Durkin’s race is a good place to do so.

But Proft isn’t backing off. His Liberty Principles PAC has been spending about $70,000 a week on cable TV ads. His latest spots feature former Chicago Bears football player Dan Hampton.

Z and Durkin’s top campaign guy Joe Woodward have had a pretty strong relationship over the years, so they ought to work together well in the coming months.

*** UPDATE *** The aforementioned TV ads…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - My New Handle - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:09 am:

    At some point, I think the obsession with Madigan would have a negative effect on a candidate’s campaign. It seems like a lot of powerless politicians asking their would-be voters to overlook that powerlessness. Especially when the voters don’t see Madigan’s name on their ballots.

  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:10 am:

    Great hire, should really strengthen Durkin’s hand against Proft, allows Durkin to worry less (if that’s possible) about himself and also focus where Proft thinks he can force fractures in the Caucus.

    I’d send cannoli over but I’m afraid it might be considered trolling so best of luck to Z and that Crew.

  3. - Determinated - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:21 am:

    I am not sure that I agree that Woodward and Z have a great relationship, but, Z working a State Rep primary for the leader points to how effective the Leader thinks his in house political operation is.

    The Gov lost many of the operatives that made last cycle click for the House Republicans (the money helped a ton too). I am curious how prepared they are for this cycle without the in house knowledge of running multiple races successfully.

    Remember the 2014 cycle where the HGOP really couldn’t pull off any upsets even with a GOP wave and Rauner running so strong. Time will tell.

  4. - Curl of the Burl - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:37 am:

    Joe is very good at what he does, and 2016 showed what happens when he had funds to play with in targeted races.

  5. - JS Mill - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:37 am:

    I had to laugh after reading the text of Durkin’s adds. Western Springs is horribly oppressed./s

    Durkin represents an area that was barely impacted by the 2008-2009 housing bubble and has not only rebounded but has experienced significant growth in property values.

    They also have some of the countries best schools. So spare me the sob stories.

  6. - Chris P. Bacon - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:41 am:

    No hope for GOP if they can’t oust the frauds. Like Rauner, Durkin wanted income tax increase to pass and neither was serious about stopping it.

  7. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 9:58 am:

    Is Z a consultant or the campaign manager? I would assume consultant.

  8. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:02 am:

    COTB - I think the hgop/Rauner spend a ton in 14 on House races. Just pointing that out.

  9. - Ooops - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:09 am:

    With Kayleen focused on the Gov’s race this cycle and Z on the outside; The real question is can Joe Woodward beat Dan Proft?

  10. - Rusty Jones - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    HRO spent the most in their history (up until that point) in 2014, but spread themselves too thin. They jumped in and out of races, that if they had stayed in the entire time, could have won. Instead, they had a weak cycle mainly playing defense.

    In the 2018 primary, HRO appears to be primarily focused on saving the Leader. Interesting twist, considering how many legislative primaries there are this cycle.

  11. - @misterjayem - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    I wonder what a fella gets paid to come up with fresh ideas like “Let’s tie him to Mike Madigan!”

    – MrJM

  12. - G'Kar - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:17 am:

    This is a little off topic, but reading this article gave me a new idea for a slogan: “IPI: Your source for incompetent ideologues since 2002.”

  13. - Blue dog dem - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:21 am:

    Durkin. Another tax and spend self proclaimed fiscal conservative.

  14. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:25 am:

    The damage Rauner has inflicted upon ILGOP is real. He has tainted the image of Republicans regarding leadership and policies. The minority party sold itself to an incompetent saviour.

    God help them, they look really bad.

  15. - A guy - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:40 am:

    ==I am not sure that I agree that Woodward and Z have a great relationship, but, Z working a State Rep primary for the leader points to how effective the Leader thinks his in house political operation is.===

    They do have a strong relationship and this is a very good move.

    This lets Woodward do what he does everywhere else, while Z handles the affront to the leader. This whole charade was meant to distract. With Z handling Durkin, it frees up the rest of the crew to stay on schedule. Good move all the way around.

  16. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 11:37 am:

    –No hope for GOP if they can’t oust the frauds. Like Rauner, Durkin wanted income tax increase to pass and neither was serious about stopping it. –

    What happens if the auto-da-fe is successful? Is there any realistic path to a governing majority headed by the inquisitors? Remember, when given a choice, GOP primary voters statewide showered Proft with 7% of the vote.

    In other words, what’s the real point of the exercise, from the Uihlein-money perspective? Just prankster hijinks with grandpa’s old Schiltz money? I don’t see the grown-up objective in a representative democracy.

  17. - Soothsayer - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 12:31 pm:

    Durkin’s days are numbered. He may win in 2018 but not in 2020. His district has already turned a reddish purple and will only grow bluer by the day.

  18. - A guy - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 1:07 pm:

    Sooth, there’s nothing purple about that district, especially in the local races. It’s red.

  19. - Soothsayer - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 1:28 pm:

    A guy, without a doubt, incumbents did not fare well during the last local consolidated election. It does not bode particularly well for Durkin. Plus, the area is getting younger and while there was previously a great deal of voter apathy by that demographic, they tended to turn out in races across Virginia. One would be wise to presume that phenomenon might occur in Illinois.

  20. - Spliff - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 1:50 pm:

    those are two low budget badly done commercials.

  21. - A guy - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 1:52 pm:

    To the update videos….

    Let me make sure I’ve got this right;
    Dan Hampton, long retired Chicago Bear…will only play for new coach…Mickey Straub??

    Oddly the production values are decent here. But the entire concept is entirely idiotic. It’s a SMH from the start. The voice with the NFL films pedigree, heightens the nuttiness of this ad. It’s so goofy it’s not even funny. Hampton must be out of his tree to get involved in this. Really nuts. It’s a fail.

  22. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 1:59 pm:

    Geez, I hate to see Hampton associate his HOF career with such bush-league production.

    He was the goods; this fakakta spot is unworthy of the reflected glory.

  23. - walker - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 2:08 pm:

    What Wordslinger said.

    What exactly would defeating Durkin do for Proft et al?

    Is this only establishing a useful threat?

  24. - ughhh - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 2:59 pm:

    –In 1985 New Leadership turned around the chicago bears–

    What the H E double hockey sticks are they talking about?

    The Halas/McCaskey family still owned the team, Ditka had been coach since 82′, Buddy Ryan was DC since way before then. And basically the only major addition was their new refrigerator….

  25. - Shytown - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 4:53 pm:

    Smart move

  26. - Roman - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 8:50 pm:

    The Hampton ads might be really effective…in the 1988 primary.

  27. - Canon - Monday, Dec 11, 17 @ 10:05 pm:

    Roy Moore might win tomorrow. So i think critiques of ad quality to judge effectiveness are a bit off the mark.

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