“I’ll be a check on the Pritzker/Madigan agenda,” Republican attorney-general candidate Erika Harold says in her latest TV ad about Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner JB Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Coincidentally, I had written on my blog a few days earlier that if “voters are looking for a check on JB Pritzker and Speaker Madigan and they can’t bring themselves to vote for Governor Rauner, she might be a realistic option,” adding, “It’s probably too bad she can’t just come right out and say that in an ad,” because Rauner is helping fund her campaign.

The Harold campaign was way ahead of me, however. They produced that ad months ago and waited for just the right time to release it.

And now, a similar line of attack is cropping up elsewhere. In southern Illinois, for instance, state Representative Jerry Costello’s Republican opponent David Freiss says he’ll “always put southern Illinois first,” and then an announcer claims of Representative Costello (D-Smithton), “He’d rubber stamp the Madigan/Pritzker agenda.”

I’m told that line or something very similar is being used as a closing statement to voters by House Republican candidates and incumbents “everywhere.”

They’re simply dealing with reality.

Lots of folks have certainly heard about the polling that has Governor Bruce Rauner trailing Pritzker by double digits, so even if they are voting for Rauner, many figure he probably can’t win. And if the polls are right, lots more folks have decided that they cannot vote for Rauner no way no how, but some of them are still uneasy about the future. Republican polling reportedly shows that independents and even a significant minority of Democrats want a “check” on whatever Pritzker and Madigan may do together.

Pritzker has never really pushed back hard against Rauner’s constant claims that Madigan will subjugate him if he becomes governor. And Rauner has birthed and nurtured those assumptions with millions of dollars in TV ads. Pritzker has only once countered that charge in in a TV ad, mocking the governor’s claims: “Mike Madigan hates puppies. Mike Madigan hates sunshine. JB Pritzker and Mike Madigan are Democrats. So JB Pritzker must hate puppies, and sunshine.” He hasn’t addressed it since.

Personally, I don’t think Pritzker will be Madigan’s underling. Madigan can’t just call a bunch of labor-union leaders to steer them away from Pritzker’s next fundraiser (a favorite tactic) because the billionaire doesn’t need anybody else’s money. Madigan’s progressive caucus is steadily growing, and may grow further with this election, so stymying or slow-walking or under-cutting the wealthy Pritzker and/or his agenda could cause him real grief with his own membership.

And Pritzker’s strategy has never been to win by being likable. It’s clear that the Democrat’s plan from the very beginning was to bury Rauner under an overwhelming avalanche of brutal ads that call him a “failure” and a “liar.” Just keep the governor’s negatives sky high, never take that foot off his throat, and call it a day.

Property-tax “fraud” allegation? Write another check and run a new anti-Rauner ad. Racial discrimination lawsuit by campaign staff? Write another check and run a new anti-Rauner ad. A buzzy TV ad showing an “unholy” marriage to Madigan with an “F-bomb” thrown in for good measure? Write another check and run a new anti-Rauner ad. Blam blam blam. Never let him gather enough strength to even stand up, let alone make a real fight of it.

These new Republican ads, therefore, might help down-ballot Republicans take advantage of a gaping hole that Pritzker has never bothered to close. At least, that’s the theory. We’ll know if it works come election day. And even if it doesn’t, the underlying theory ain’t bad at all and is probably all that at least some of them have left.

That new Freiss ad, by the way, also attaches the Republican as closely as possible to President Donald Trump. Freiss says in the ad that he’ll “drain the Springfield swamp,” and the announcer claims Representative Costello, by backing the Madigan/Pritzker agenda, would block Trump’s policies in Illinois. The ad also claims that Costello is funded by “anti-Trump” lobbyists. “Drain Springfield’s swamp and liberal Jerry Costello” is the conclusion.

As I write this, Trump is preparing to visit southern Illinois and area Democrats are bracing themselves for a possible regional Trump bounce. So the ad is timely. This is not to say I think Representative Costello will lose, mind you. He’s a smart campaigner and has been very popular.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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