Democrats Divided at Unofficial Campaign Kickoff

After a hiatus due to the coronavirus, the Illinois State Fair in Springfield is back, which means so too is the state’s kickoff to campaign season: the fair’s political days.

Governor’s Day (a celebration for Democrats given that Gov. J.B. Pritzker occupies the executive mansion) is Wednesday; Republicans will get their day Thursday.

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Typically, the fair is roughly six months away from the primary, but this cycle, the calendar’s a bit off due to a very specific chain of events: census results were delayed, so Democrats didn’t draw a new map of congressional districts this spring. In order to give candidates more time, they moved the primary date from March to June.

That means incumbents like U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood don’t know their district boundaries — nor do they know their potential competition.

“When Democrats win, when we flip seats, we bring change,” Underwood said Wednesday at the fair. “And we cannot lose sight of that as the goal even if we do not know who’s running in the upcoming elections. The work has to start now. 2022 is a must-win scenario, there is no opportunity for failure.”

Other Democrats who took the podium had similar messages about what’s at stake: voting rights, health care, leaving behind the days and ways of former President Donald Trump.

“This is why you worked so hard to elect Democratic leaders. So whatever you may read in the press, Democrats in Illinois are united. There’s too much at stake to be divided,” said Kristina Zahorik, president of the Illinois Democratic Party County Chairs’ Association, which organizes an annual brunch attended by hundreds of Democrats.

But many top Democrats weren’t there: Senate President Don Harmon is recovering from a mild case of COVID-19 and State House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch is out of town.

Pritzker, however, who has been a mainstay at the fair since it opened last week, skipped.

The governor said it’s not that he didn’t want to be there.

“The truth is we’re all very busy,” Pritzker said. “I support every Democrat who was at the IDCCA this morning.”

It comes as the party is in transition, after former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan stepped down from his role as DPI chair.

Pritzker backed Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward) to replace him; instead, leaders chose U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson.

Federal election laws limit Kelly from one of the job’s main duties: fundraising. She can raise money, but only within federal limits.

Tuesday, the Democratic State Central Committee voted to create a committee that will operate wholly insulated from Kelly and oversee fundraising.

Kelly on Wednesday described it as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance.

The 2022 election will be a test of the setup.

While many down-ballot contests are in flux because district maps are likewise fluid, the Democrats’ top-of-ticket is all but set: Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, Treasurer Mike Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza are all expected to easily win primary nods.

But Secretary of State Jesse White, who has been in that high-profile post since 1998, is not running for reelection.

The four-way contest to replace him is Democrats’ most competitive statewide race, and the candidates — Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell, former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago Ald. David Moore and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia — each made their pitch to the party faithful on Wednesday.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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