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The election weirdness is just beginning

Several months ago, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff Tim Mapes made copies of candidate nominating petitions for what appeared to be every single candidate in the state, regardless of party or office sought. 

Madigan’s spokesperson was mum when asked why. It turns out a database was constructed of the names of all the petition circulators who worked during the primary.

State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, pulled the trigger last week on a third-party bid for governor. The avowed foe of Gov. Bruce Rauner will need to collect 25,000 valid petition signatures by June 25 to get onto the November ballot.

There’s a catch, however. Under state law, all signatures gathered by people who circulated petitions for partisan primary candidates will be invalidated. So, it is now a relatively simple matter of plugging in names of potential petition circulators into the new database in order to weed out the potential problems.

If McCann gets on the ballot, the idea here is to establish a new party’s identity with one specific goal in mind. Its name is the Conservative Party. Its mission is to attract conservative Republican voters who are upset at Gov. Rauner on abortion, “sanctuary state” and other stuff including possibly guns.

Four years ago, Operating Engineers Union Local 150 backed the Libertarian Party’s candidate to hurt Rauner, but that candidate also got a number of votes from folks who didn’t like Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. The new party will focus on disaffected Republicans and attempt to continue the theme that Rauner is unable to unify his own party after his narrow GOP primary victory over Rep. Jeanne Ives.

If McCann survives the petition process, one challenge will be finding money for this race. Lots of union leaders and others believe billionaire Democrat JB Pritzker has this race in the bag. They’re convinced Pritzker’s personal fortune along with a strong national wave will destroy the Republican incumbent. But the folks behind this Conservative Party idea (including Local 150) firmly believe they need a “Plan B” in case something goes horribly wrong. Pritzker could be hit with some unforeseen opposition research, for example. The national political climate could suddenly change for any number of reasons. Rauner could somehow get his act together.

And even if the Democrats’ stars remain aligned all the way through November, a McCann candidacy could help the Democrats run up the score on Rauner. But the plan has its detractors. Democratic legislative candidates in Republican-leaning districts have been hoping the national “blue wave” so many see heading this way combined with Gov. Rauner’s horrible unpopularity will lead to lower turnout among Republicans and help them squeak through. 

Putting McCann on the ticket gives disaffected Republican voters a reason to head to the polls and they won’t be voting for Democrats down the ballot. And while calling it an “interesting play,” a top Republican official with close ties to the governor said McCann could attract some Democratic votes as well.

Pritzker, after all, has far more liberal stances than Rauner on immigration, guns, abortion, etc. Rauner has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he strongly opposes illegal immigration and flatly denies a bill he signed into law created a “sanctuary state.” The governor also claims to be an NRA member and vetoed a bill last month that would’ve regulated gun dealers.

Pritzker’s vast holdings include several companies that have really bad records when it comes to their employees. In other words, it’s more than conceivable the Rauner campaign could use targeted media to try to drive conservative, pro-union Democrats and independents to McCann. It’s also very possible Rauner will go all-out negative against McCann. A far-right group aired a very nasty radio ad during the March primary about the governor and his wife, so the Rauner folks may feel free to go just as negative on McCann.

Operating Engineers Union Local 150 contributed $50,000 to McCann’s campaign fund just a few days before McCann’s announcement and will be very involved in his effort. The union is known for its unorthodox political moves, like working with conservative activist Dan Proft during the primary against House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. 

But the involvement of 150 gives Rauner the ability to use the “Madigan issue” against McCann because the union local has close ties to the House Speaker. 

If you thought the weirdness ended on primary day, it’s actually just beginning.

RICH MILLER also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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