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Airbags

If somebody were writing this column two months ago, no question: Dan Hynes wins the Democratic nomination for Peter Fitzgerald's soon-to-be vacant seat. It would be almost impossible to imagine any of the announced contenders giving a Hynes a run for his money.

First of all, as state comptroller, Hynes is the only Democrat competing for the nomination who has won a statewide election. Secondly, his ties to the traditional Democratic organization on both the local and state level are unmatched by any of the other candidates, due to the active support of his father, former Cook County assessor and state Senate president Tom Hynes. Third, he has the trump card of possible support from National Democrats due to his family's role in Bill Clinton's election and re-election efforts.

The only drawbacks were his quiet demeanor, his lukewarm support for the war in Iraq and his general lack of a record in terms of protesting highly contentious National Republican policies. But these were mere stumbling blocks for the powerful Hynes movement, and he was out of the gate and laps ahead of the competition.

Then he broke an ankle on November 9, when Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas announced her candidacy. The campaign was forced to completely reconsider its strategy and vote-farming focus. To a certain extent, the campaign is still having trouble figuring out what tack to take for the three months between now and the primary election on March 16.

Pappas' entry created a myriad of problems. It seriously crippled the titanic Cook County base that was assumed to belong to Hynes. As far as his campaign was concerned, the only people who could give him any trouble in Cook County were former schools chief and Daley chief-of-staff Gery Chico and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, from Hyde Park. Obama was especially worrisome, because he was the only viable black personality to have announced his candidacy. Chico was figured to be hapless downstate, and therefore his Cook County appeal was only a slight irritant. With Pappas' entry, however, Hynes' slice of the Cook County pie grew much smaller. Pappas was the front runner as soon as she entered, but those numbers are skewed because they had a Cook County bias.

Because Cook County traditionally provides two-thirds of the votes in the Democratic primary, Hynes figured on just locking Cook down and coasting into the general election -- unfortunately for him, it turns out. The two most important co-chairmen of his campaign are John Daley and John H. Stroger, commissioner and president of Cook County, respectively. This choice was calculated, and now because of Pappas' wide appeal, it may turn out to be a serious error.

Pappas' appeal is considered to be limited to Cook County: many from even the collar counties probably have never heard of her. So even if Hynes does suffer a huge whittling of his base in Cook County, his organization ties to the rest of the state -- including his recent endorsement by Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan, also the speaker of the Illinois House -- would figure to put him over the top in the primaries. But this is not necessarily the case.

Mayor of Metamora Matt O'Shea's endorsement of Gery Chico may help Chico make a slight vote grab downstate. Barack Obama, considered to be limited downstate due to his Chicago ties and name, has the (perceived, not explicit) advantage of being the only viable black candidate, which could help him among black voters statewide. Worst of all, Blair Hull has done the vast majority of his campaigning downstate, utilizing an innovative strategy: instead of trying to only grab votes away from the other candidates, he has invigorated the tepid downstate Democrats, trying to increase downstate representation to offset Cook County's preponderance. Hull will do comparatively well downstate, and if he can carve his own slice of Cook County then Hynes is in even deeper trouble.

There is another glitch, too, something that has assuredly been a stone in the shoe of the Hynes campaign: the split in the party that has arisen between the factions centered around Governor Rod Blagojevich and State Speaker Michael Madigan. On Madigan's side are naturally his daughter Lisa, but also George Dunne, John J. Cullerton (at least, until recently), the Hynes family and others. In Blagojevich's camp are men like Richard Mell, the powerful alderman of the 33rd Ward; Bobby Rush, the popular South Side congressman; Congressman Rahm Emmanuel; Congressman Luis Gutierrez and possibly Mayor Daley himself. The mayor and Madigan have a long history of animosity, going back to Madigan's endorsement of Jane Byrne in 1983. Will the mayor and the governor use their influence to keep the Madigan wing from dominating state politics? It's not inconceivable. The splintering effect such a development would have in Cook County and the rest of the state could allow a dark horse candidate such as Hull, Obama or Chico to grab a surprise victory.

Needless to say, Hynes faces a thorny three months and his chances of simply waltzing into the nomination have all but disappeared. His mediocre, though not terrible, performance at the NAACP-sponsored debate in October underlined some of the problems he would have against a charismatic candidate across the state. His public record is mainly one of fiscal responsibility -- not exactly sexy by any means -- and so even his statewide office will give him only a limited advantage.

So what are Hynes' issues? Firstly, he is pushing himself as the archetypical "Chicago-model" Democrat, the "manager." Following the tradition of the recently departed Paul Simon, he is stressing the "fiscally conservative" part of the fiscally conservative/socially liberal formula. At a time of economic recession, this will play well, and Hynes is a stand-up public official with the record in this area to back his talk. He created the Rainy Day Fund, which kicked in during prosperous times and forced the state to allocate money to be used to fund social services when things went down. He also recently pushed through an initiative to make Illinois' complicated budgetary and fiscal processes more transparent and accountable to the public.

It is the "socially liberal" part Hynes may have a problem with. Although he has done an admirable job in lending the comptroller office's help to social issues -- most notably his initiative to help women by keeping deadbeat dads from getting state business, one of the only such programs in the country -- he lacks the rhetorical skill or personal imagination to get his social conscience across to the voter. Not only this, but his support of the Bush Administration at the beginning of the war in Iraq may have hurt his credibility with many hard-line Democrats, another sliver of the primary electorate he may lose -- and at this point, Hynes can't risk any more chipping away at his party base.

Just the Facts:

Born: Chicago, Illinois (Beverly), 1968.

Marital Status: Married

Ethnicity/Race: Irish-American

Education:
B.A., Economics, University of Notre Dame (magna cum laude)
B.A., Computer Applications, University of Notre Dame (magna cum laude)
J.D., Loyola University of Chicago (with Honors)

Employment: 1998-present: Illinois State Comptroller

Official Website: DanHynes.com

The Issues:

The Economy: Hynes mostly cites his record on the economy and his focus is corporate responsibility, fair and reasonable budgeting, and complete transparency. He is moderate in his stance on Bush's tax-cuts, saying he will roll back only those parts that help the wealthy and "do not stimulate the economy."

Healthcare: Hynes does not explicitly support any sort of universal, single-payer healthcare package, but rather supports tax-credit based, program-driven healthcare initiatives.

Education: Hynes is quite outwardly anti-vouchers, anti-No Child Left Behind (at least the unfunded version the President has created). Hynes also stresses the need to improve access to education for the disabled.

Foreign Policy/War on Terror: Hynes supported the war in Iraq, but has issued no concrete policy papers on foreign policy. Hynes supports the repeal of the PATRIOT Act.

Abortion: Hynes is pro-Choice and has a great record in regards to the protection of women's rights. Hynes especially stresses the need to eliminate "the global 'gag rule' that prohibits international agencies that receive U.S. aid from using their own funds to provide abortion services or referrals."

Affirmative Action/Gay Marriage: Hynes supports Affirmative Action, but makes no explicit reference to homosexual marriage, although he does believe "domestic partners" should be extended benefits.

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Comments

jw / February 25, 2004 1:56 AM

With the unions, Dan has a better shot than this makes it sound, and he still sounds 100 times better than Jack Ryan. Daley will be with Dan, just like he was with Lisa. Don't know that the Iraq issue will matter because Dan still comes off OK trashing Bush on WMDs.

Ramsin / March 5, 2004 1:15 PM

Mr. Williams- I think you're right; keep in mind how long ago this article was written (almost three months). In recent discussions of the race I've made it a point to mention that Hynes' GOTV abilities will be greater than most people expect due not only to AFL-CIO activities, but the street soldiers of the Democratic Party.

 

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