Jim Dey | Democrats are hoping 2 endorsements are better than 1

Jim Dey | Democrats are hoping 2 endorsements are better than 1

This year's race for governor of Illinois — a contest that so far is about nothing — is getting more and more craven and conspiratorial.

The campaign of Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, the decided underdog, keeps running out pictures of toilets and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The toilets illustrate his Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker's unseemly, but legal, ploy to get a big property tax break at one of the mansions he owns. The unpopular Madigan's mug is intended to scare voters into voting against Madigan's candidate and money man — Pritzker.

Pritzker's negative ads are no better than those of Rauner, whom he characterizes as a "failed governor" who works hand in glove with President Donald Trump, the Democrats' bete noir, when he's not pursuing his own intentionally evil initiatives.

But that's not all in this year of Illinois' political discontent. There's a third candidate running under the banner of a nonexistent political party.

He's state Sen. Sam "The Sham" McCann, a theoretical Republican from downstate Macoupin County. His third-party candidacy was organized by Rauner opponents to elect Pritzker.

Confused yet?

There's more — McCann, who falsely claimed to be a U.S. Marine Corps veteran when he first ran for the Illinois Senate, is the self-proclaimed candidate of a political party that doesn't exist in Illinois — the Conservative Party.

See, there's a reason why they say that politics in Illinois is not for the squeamish.

That ought to be enough mischief and misdirection for any single political contest.

This being Illinois, it's not.

A politically powerful union this week decided to up the duplicity ante when it issued its political endorsement in the governor's race.

Actually, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents 23,000 blue-collar members in Illinois and Indiana, already had issued an endorsement in the race. Like most unions, which are Democrat-friendly, it endorsed Pritzker.

Powerful Democratic politicians and unions in Illinois jumped aboard the Pritzker train early after Madigan, chairman of the state Democratic Party, made it clear he wanted Pritzker's money to fund Democratic candidates for state and legislative offices.

That's something that Pritzker, who inherited a billion-dollar fortune and spends his time tending to it, can do without breaking a sweat.

Four years ago, Democrats complained bitterly when Rauner, a multimillionaire businessman, self-financed his campaign. They said they found it distasteful, but not so distasteful that they would refuse to back a candidate who is so rich he makes Rauner look like a piker.

At any rate, the Operating Engineers endorsed Pritzker months ago, and that was, at first, thought to be that. But Chicago politicos don't miss much when it comes to unleveling the playing field to win elections.

That's why it soon became clear that there was more to do to enhance Pritzker's already excellent chances of winning in November.

Illinois is solid Democrat, making it extremely difficult for a Republican to win any statewide race. But the GOP can win if Republicans are united behind their candidate while drawing enough independents and Democrats to squeak out a victory.

Reading the political tea leaves properly, Democrats decided to exploit Rauner's difficulties with his right wing by getting McCann into the race.

The Operating Engineers backed McCann's nascent efforts with cash and helped him collect enough ballot signatures to get his name on the ballot.

This week, the Operating Engineers did something else — they endorsed McCann for governor.

But what about their earlier endorsement of Pritzker? Not to worry — they endorsed both Pritzker and McCann.

Since both of them can't win, what's up? It's called "divide further and conquer more."

"Local 150 has proudly endorsed both candidates to our membership in Illinois, and I encouraged our members to vote with the confidence that a vote for either of these candidates will not be a vote against their paycheck, their rights on the job or their union," said union President James Sweeney.

Sweeney noted that many of his union's members are Republicans, an anathema to traditional unions. Since Sweeney doesn't want them to vote for an actual Republican, the union arranged for two options that suit the union's purpose. They can either vote for Pritzker or vote for McCann, which is the same as voting for Pritzker.

Sen. McCann isn't going to become governor of Illinois, and given his record, he shouldn't. But he can — and may well become — a spoiler for Rauner.

McCann's presence in the race is the main reason why one of the nation's top political handicappers, the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, recently announced that Illinois is "likely Democratic" for governor.

"McCann seems likely to peel at least a few Republican votes away from the incumbent, making Rauner's re-election path even more difficult," Sabato said.

So, the plan goes, Pritzker gets the win, and Rauner gets the gate.

But what does McCann get?

It's a rare politician in Illinois who considers virtue to be its own reward. So McCann will be looking for something more than a hearty handshake, and it's a pretty good bet he'll get it.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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