It would have been almost unthinkable several months ago that if Governor Rod Blagojevich had a primary challenger he would emerge from the primary stronger than when he went in.
The scandals are never-ending, his poll numbers suck, the discontent with his tenure is wide and deep, even among many in his own party.
He even managed to flip-flop on a union that endorsed him earlier this month.
Numerous sources report that the Illinois Federation of Teachers had an understanding with Blagojevich that he would avoid any pledge to not increase taxes during his upcoming campaign. The governor never actually made a rock solid promise to forgo the pledge, but the strong implication that the union got from him was that he would not make any promise to not raise taxes in his second term.
Then, less than 24 hours after the IFT announced its endorsement, Blagojevich took the no tax hike pledge. "IÕm not going to raise taxes on the hardworking people of Illinois," the State Journal-Register reported the governor saying minutes after he formally kicked off his reelection campaign. "I wonÕt do it. I donÕt believe in it. I think itÕs the wrong thing to do."
The union was also reasonably assured before the endorsement that the governor would avoid going after teacher pensions in the future, sources say. Many IFT members, particularly university employees, were outraged that the governor attacked their pensions last year. The pension fight was a big reason the union withheld an endorsement of Blagojevich earlier this year when it endorsed other candidates for statewide and legislative offices.
But on Monday, two days after the IFT's endorsement and one day after the governor kicked off his campaign, the Chicago Tribune included this line in an editorial: "In an interview last week with the Tribune editorial board, [Blagojevich budget director John] Filan said pension reform would be a priority if Blagojevich gets a second term."
Needless to say, that statement made the teachers union more than a little nervous.
Despite all of this, and lots more, it looks today like the governor will, indeed, emerge from the primary in a better position than when the season began.
He can thank Edwin Eisendrath for that.
Eisendrath's campaign has been a joke up until now. Not only is it the gang that couldn't shoot straight, they don't even own a gun. I doubt they even have a FOID card.
Last week, with just a month to go before the election, the campaign was forced to hire a new manager, Felicia Shallow Davis. Davis was initially described in a press release as the "deputy field director for the Obama Senate campaign." Later in the day, another press release was issued that listed her simply as having "worked on two of Barack ObamaÕs campaigns." The Chicago Tribune reported that she was merely a "volunteer" on the campaigns. It also turns out that she just graduated from the cooking and hospitality school where Eisendrath works. You can't make this stuff up.
Yes, there's been considerable pressure on Democrats from above to steer clear of Eisendrath's campaign. But the strong-arm tactics have been even more brutal against anyone who would support Forrest Claypool's effort to unseat Cook County Board President John Stroger, yet Claypool has run a respectable campaign and has a long list of endorsements from top Democrats. Alexi Giannoulias' unslated campaign for state treasurer has also had to deal with the long arm of the Democratic Party establishment, but he has still managed to put together a decent effort.
Perception is almost everything in politics, and if Eisendrath is blown out next month then Rod Blagojevich will gain political strength. Reporters and pundits will compare the Democratic landslide with the brutal Republican primary and pronounce the GOP nominee weakened and battered and the definite underdog (barring indictments) for the fall, no matter what the polls might show.
Eisendrath misled supporters and staff, who believed him when he promised to run a real campaign, with real money. But he now looks like he was just jumping in with the hope that the US Attorney's office would decide the outcome for him. Barring indictments, unless Eisendrath dumps a boatload of cash into this race right now, he has no hope of even making a respectable showing. And instead of hobbling the governor and forcing him to answer real questions about both his term in office and his plans for the future, Eisendrath has managed to strengthen the man's hand.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at thecapitolfaxblog.com