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Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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There was a political stampede in the 2018 Democratic Party primary, and there’s another one forming in advance of the June 2022 primary election.

Call it what you will — the triumph of overambitious mediocrities or the cream rising to the top. But frustrated wannabes know they must strike when the iron is hot, and it’s never hotter than when an entrenched incumbent calls it quits.

In 2018, former Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan opted out of public life. The four-term incumbent was tired of her job and blocked from running for governor by the refusal of her father — longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan — to retire.

At 54, of course, Lisa Madigan is young enough to run again, although the stunning political collapse of her father has stripped the clout from her political rose.

After Madigan stepped down, eight Democrats who had waited impatiently for her to bid adieu announced they were running for her job.

Kwame Raoul ultimately claimed the Democratic nomination and won the general election. Now, he’s using his office as a platform to seek even higher office.

This year, it’s longtime Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White who’s stepping aside. He planned to do so in 2018, but the 87-year-old White couldn’t resist sticking around for a sixth term as Illinois’ most popular and likeable statewide official. (He won all 102 counties in four of six elections.)

White’s retirement is making Democrats drool in anticipation of the electoral possibilities that go with succeeding him. Even Republicans, including state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington, have been blinded enough by ambition to think they have a shot at victory in this solid Democratic state.

So far, there are four Democrats still in the race. Three others were in but dropped out after testing the waters.

Just a few months ago, veteran Springfield political analyst Kent Redfield speculated that early entrants would try to clear the field through dominant fundraising and influential endorsements.

Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias appears to be filling that role, which is ironic because his electoral record is mixed.

Besides Giannoulias, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia and Chicago Aldermen David Moore and Pat Dowell are in. Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett and state Sen. Michael Hastings have withdrawn.

Giannoulias, who gained entry to the party partly through his friendship with former President Barack Obama, has a big campaign bank account and a slew of endorsements.

He recently added support from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and that means money and campaign workers. In addition, he has backing from U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Chicago, which should help in pulling Hispanic votes away from Valencia.

The Chicago Sun-Times quoted Garcia as saying he expects more labor endorsements.

“The fact that you have the Teamsters, as well as the Laborers, signals that the possibility of getting some of the building trades to come on board is also within reach,” he said.

The secretary of state’s office is valuable not just for what it is but what it could be. It is a high-profile perch for incumbents who want to spread their names around the state and a proven political launching pad.

Prior to White’s election in 1998, the four previous secretaries of state — Democrats Michael Howlett and Alan Dixon and Republicans Jim Edgar and George Ryan — ran for either governor or U.S. senator.

Giannoulias has already run for the U.S. Senate, losing in 2010 to Republican Mark Kirk. Six years later, Kirk’s bid for re-election was crushed by Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

The 2010 defeat represents a potential problem for Democrats who anticipate retaining the secretary of state’s office. Giannoulias’ previous failure represents a flashing red light that many Democrats — at least so far — are choosing to ignore.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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