Tom Kacich: Dem rivals in 13th tilt finish on sour note
The somewhat testy relationship between Democrats Ann Callis and George Gollin, who were opponents in last week's 13th Congressional District primary election, continued well after the election campaign and even into election night, according to Gollin and his chief campaign strategist, Walter Ludwig, of Indigo Strategies of Washington, D.C.
"It started when George called to concede and to wish (Callis) well (on election night), and she refused to take the call," said Ludwig, managing partner of the firm that was the general consultant for the Gollin campaign. "In my many years of working politics, I've never heard that before, never happened before. It was pretty dumbfounding on election night, that's for sure. That's just not how it's done."
Gollin said Callis finally called him back Saturday morning, four days after the election, and they spoke for about "a minute and a half."
"It was quite civil," he said. He said Callis told him she had been busy talking to supporters and later was committed to talking to her son, who is overseas in the military, and they had to reserve a secure line.
Gollin said he didn't have expectations for a thorough review of the campaign in the phone call, which is a formality of election night politics.
"I had thought, what do I want the conversation to be like? Just have a little bit of closure and have a friendly conversation and just be done with it," Gollin said.
He decided he would tell Callis about a call he made to a potential donor who said that not only did he support capital punishment but also torture and even crucifixion for some crimes, including financial fraud.
"I thought we could talk about some little thing and then we'd be done," he said. "But she didn't really engage. She listened but didn't have her own friendly little thing to talk about."
Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois, said he offered Callis his help "on matters of higher ed or science policy."
She said, "'Oh, we'll have coffee someday,' and that was it."
Gollin said he wondered what he would have done "if things had gone the other way" and he had won the Democratic primary (he ended up with 31.3 percent in the three-way race).
"I would have spoken to her Tuesday night as soon as she had called, and I would have tried to offer some consolation and tell her, this is politics and though things got a little combative at some point, I would have tried to smooth things out and not do things that would have been personally injurious to her," he said. "But that's not just something she chose to do."
On the other hand, Gollin said, two days after the election he met Rodney Davis, the incumbent congressman and victor in the three-way Republican primary in the 13th District.
"I disagree with many of his policies, but he came in to offer his consolation and sympathy and to wish me well," Gollin said. "It felt very sincere, and I thought it was very gracious of him."
Asked for comment on Gollin's and Ludwig's remarks, Callis campaign manager Marshall Cohen issued the following statement:
"I want to thank Dr. Gollin for his support. We connected by phone over the weekend, and I valued our conversation and his offer to help. It is important we come together as Democrats, and I appreciate he mentioned that in his remarks last week. There are serious differences between our vision and Rodney Davis' vision. This election is about how Congressman Davis has spent his first term siding with the special interests and how I bring a new approach to Washington that focuses on results for middle-class families in Illinois."
Gollin, in the wake of his defeat in his first-ever political campaign, said he was generally pleased with the eight-month-long effort and was grateful for the work done by his campaign staff and volunteers.
"I liked very much that I learned lots about some of the fine points of policy and that I understand many things better than what I did before," he said. "What I would have liked to do differently, I thought we needed to work really hard to get students on the campuses registered to vote and then turned out to vote."
But campaign strategists dissuaded him, telling him it's a "resource-intensive thing to do." "I would have liked us to work that aspect of the campaign hard, but that just wasn't executed," he said.
In fact, voter turnout in University of Illinois campus precincts was poor, as it usually is in nonpresidential elections. Some precincts turned out only 1 percent or 2 percent of the registered voters.
Some of the results were baffling, Golln said, such as in Macoupin County, where he finished third behind Callis and David Green, also of Champaign.
"That doesn't make any sense to me because I was really campaigning, and David wasn't," Gollin said. "I don't really have an explanation for that."
He said he expected Green to get 3 percent to 4 percent of the vote in the 13th District, but that he ended up with 14 percent.
One interesting aspect in last Tuesday's voting was the large number of "undervotes" in several Champaign-Urbana precincts in the statewide races where Democratic candidates were unopposed. That includes the state treasurer's race where state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign was running without opposition.
In several precincts between 23 percent and 30 percent of the Democratic voters declined to vote for Frerichs, even though he had no opponent.
Many of the largest bloc of undervotes came in precincts with large African-American populations, such as City of Champaign 1 (27 percent undervote in the Frerichs race), City of Champaign 9 (30 percent undervote) and Cunningham 1 (23 percent undervote).
Frerichs wasn't the only one to suffer from a lack of votes in an uncontested race.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan had a high undervote in some precincts — and not just black precincts — as well.
There was a 31 percent undervote for her race in Cunningham 10 (the Carle Park area), 26 percent in Cunningham 12 (near downtown Urbana) and 26 percent in City of Champaign 9.
Carol Ammons, the Democratic candidate in the 103rd House District and an African-American, said she wasn't aware of any organized effort among black Democrats to sit out certain races.
Esther Patt, a strategist in the Ammons campaign, said she also was unaware of any organized effort. The Madigan non-vote, she said, could be backlash for her father (the unpopular Speaker of the Illinois House) or "because of her poor record on civil liberties."
Ammons — who defeated Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg last week by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin in the 103rd House race — said she has received congratulatory messages from "all over" the state.
"Mostly legislators," she said, adding that she plans to travel to Springfield in the coming weeks to meet with Democratic lawmakers. This weekend, she said, she'll attend an Emily's List training session for candidates in Chicago. Emily's List is a political action committee that supports pro-choice Democrats.
As for making connections with the campaign organization of House Speaker Michael Madigan — which supported Rosenberg in the primary race — Ammons said that hasn't happened yet.
"They've given our office a call. I haven't spoken to them about anything in particular, and I haven't spoken to the Speaker," said Ammons. "But they'd like to speak to me, and I just haven't scheduled anything yet."
Ammons' grass-roots campaign outworked the Rosenberg campaign in the 103rd District, which includes almost all of Champaign and Urbana.
"Of course, I'm going to have to work for (Madigan) at some point, but I think we're going to focus our energies again and remain local in our organizing and getting prepared for November," Ammons said. "I'm excited about the summer and all the summer activities I normally participate in."
Ammons also said she doesn't plan to resign the Urbana City Council seat to which she was elected last spring.
"I'm going to stay on as long as I can. I don't know what the future holds," she said, adding that she "definitely" will remain on the council through the November election.
Ammons will oppose Republican Kristin Williamson, also of Urbana, in the general election.
Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein said he agrees with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, who said that last week's election results show that Gov. Pat Quinn has work to do with downstate voters. Quinn lost in several counties, including Vermilion County, to underfunded and virtually unknown Tio Hardiman of suburban Hillside.
"I'll go along with what Dick Durbin said about the drop-off in the race for governor, about the votes for Tio. As Dick Durbin said, the governor has some work to do in central Illinois and downstate," Klein said.
Quinn got 70 percent of the Democratic vote in Champaign County. He narrowly lost in several rural and suburban precincts in the county, but won every precinct in Champaign-Urbana.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.