Illinois Republican leaders who attended a recent Will County retreat with Karl Rove were a little taken aback when the White House political guru talked excitedly about bringing Vice President Dick Cheney into Illinois to campaign on behalf of the Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general. The race just hasn't registered on anyone's political radar to date, so it was a surprise to many that he even knew the office existed.
Defeating an incumbent attorney general is no easy task. The office is essentially a positive press release machine. You lock up a few bad guys, sue some corrupt and/or polluting corporations, help out the senior citizens and alert consumers to fraud. You have to really be a mope to screw up that gig.
And incumbent Attorney General Lisa Madigan is no mope. It's no accident that not a single Republican challenger has yet to emerge to challenge the one-term incumbent.
Even some current statewide GOP candidates are hoping that she draws an underfunded nobody. A strong opponent, whoever that might be, would only force her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, to do everything he could to gin up Democratic turnout throughout the state. The Republicans would prefer a depressed Democratic electorate next year, which would give them a much better chance of defeating Rod Blagojevich.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross is about the only one hoping that Lisa Madigan has a tough opponent because every minute and every dollar that Speaker Madigan is forced to spend on the First Daughter's race is a minute and a dollar that's not spent on his House campaigns. It's generally agreed that Speaker Madigan could have won more House races in 2002 if it wasn't for Lisa's tough race against Joe Birkett.
The US Chamber and other national business groups have a different take, however. They see Lisa Madigan as the next Eliot Spitzer, New York's fiery and highly successful attorney general who is the odds-on favorite to become that state's next governor. The business types don't want Attorney General Madigan stepping into Spitzer's national leadership role, so they've committed to spend millions to defeat her.
Bigtime money attracts bigtime attention. Cue Karl Rove.
Word from on high is that Rove is working on a strategy for the Illinois attorney general's race that would theoretically benefit all the state's Republican candidates. Some gubernatorial candidates have been asked to go on the attack against Madigan, but there haven't been any eager takers to date.
Rove's ideas may sound counterintuitive, but that's just the sort of campaigns he runs. Not many predicted, for instance, that Rove would be able to turn John Kerry's war hero status into a liability.
All they need now is a decent candidate. Good luck with that.
While we're on the subject of the 2006 election, state Rep. Jack Franks, a McHenry County Democrat, has so harshly attacked Governor Rod Blagojevich this year that many are becoming convinced he's plotting a primary bid against his fellow Democrat.
I don't buy it. Yet. While he's been coy in public, he's made it clear to friends that he has no intention of running for governor next year. He is, however, having the time of his life bashing the governor. His attitude seems to be that if this leads to much bigger things, then so be it.
As is his habit, the governor attempted to divert attention from his own friends' involvement in a mega-scandal at the Health Facilities Planning Board by throwing somebody else under the bus to distract attention. In this case, it was Franks.
The Blagojevich folks let it be known that Franks' law firm was lobbying for a hospital that had a case in front of the allegedly corrupt board, but he occasionally used some of his legislative office stationery when writing letters to the Blagojevich administration urging its help.
Franks contended at the time that he was deliberately taken down by the governor. And he has since used his chairmanship of the House State Government Administration Committee to successfully put the focus back on the governor and exact a bit of revenge. Nobody remembers Franks' own alleged problems now, and he's scoring bigtime points with his Republican-leaning House district in the process.
Franks could end up running for treasurer, but I'm not convinced yet that a gubernatorial bid is in the cards. Far stranger things have happened, however.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.