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The Mechanics
« Geoghegan Files Suit for Special Senate Election Nate Silver Gives Quigley 2-1, and Feigenholtz 5-2 »

Special Election IL05 Sat Feb 28 2009

Special Election in IL-05 Defies Conventional Wisdom

Northwest Side attorney-pundit Russ Stewart's prognostications are not always right but he is right somewhat more often than wrong, and when his predictions defy conventional wisdom it's because of ground-game perspective and applying common sense to raw math. He has predicted a John Fritchey win in the special election to fill Rahm Emanuel's vacated seat in the 5th Congressional District. Stewart makes his call largely on assumed apathy, low turnout, and the resultant advantage to whoever has the most ward organization (or "machine") support: in this case, Fritchey, "who has the backing of "powerhouse" Democratic committeemen in the 33rd, 36th, 38th, 43rd, 45th and 47th wards" (plus the 32nd, where Fritchey is committeeman). In a 12-candidate Democratic race, Stewart sees 30% as a winning number. I'd say that's high; 22%-25% should win it.

Stewart is correct on one critical point that many observers, maybe even some of the candidates, may be missing, namely, that the "casual" vote will be almost nonexistent in this race. In most contests, large numbers of voters enter the booth for some other race, such as President or committeemen, and then, in other races they know little about, pick an ethnic name or vote gender. Here that dynamic doesn't apply because there is nothing else on the ballot. I'd agree with Stewart that by and large, "only those voters committed to a candidate will make the effort to vote."

This has two huge significances.

First, it means that polls are misleading. Polls, taking in casual voters who say they'll vote but won't really come out, overstate both Feigenholtz's gender advantage and Quigley's and O'Connor's name recognition. Polls also undercount the potential of Geoghegan and Forys, the latter because on the phone his name doesn't jump out as Polish, but in the district, where his campaign sign is essentially the Polish flag, he makes the point to his target audience. So any campaign with a good ground game, will do better than polls suggest.

However, Stewart also is right when he says, "The Illinois political environment is toxic. Voters have had an overdose of lies, evasions, stupidity and duplicity. Felonious conduct by politicians seems to be the norm, not the exception." And this also has two huge significances which he omits, and which counter convention.

First, while few voters' votes will be a "pig in a poke," the general record-high disgust level will generate some "You Ain't the Boss of Me" ("YATBOM") factor. That is, the organizations can get a voter to the poll, but can't necessarily make him/her vote the way they want. Plenty of voters who are "dependable" D votes, rousted to the polls and told Fritchey is the guy, don't know Fritchey from Adam; these voters like their precinct captain but remember that the captains previously told them to vote for Stroger and Blagojevich, who they now loathe. When these voters walk in and look at the ballot and see another name they do know, some X number of them will vote for someone else, whether motivated positively by something they've read or seen on TV, or negatively, just as some minor rebellion against the whole messed-up political system. The biggest beneficiary of YATBOM will be Quigley. If the vote were a referendum on Stroger, Quigley would win in a walk, notwithstanding Feigenholtz's latest ads and mailings. But no one knows what X is.

Another huge aspect of the tide of toxic politics in Illinois is the "self-starters," voters (mainly from the east end of the district) who are still awash in post-2008 excitement (to the extent the economy hasn't depressed them) and consider it their civic duty to vote. The affluent vote in higher numbers than the working class, generally, and these voters are getting multiple daily e-mails and Facebook alerts about the election. The DFA/IVI-IPO forum at DePaul attracted at least 650 people, turning away over 100 from the hall because of fire rules. That doesn't sound like people "ignoring" the election, at least not on the lakefront.

A special election like this is not, primarily, issue-based. Feigenholtz's "health care" focus is misguided because it targets casual voters who are not going to come out and, besides, is any other candidate anti-health care? Moreover, Quigley's Tribune endorsement, and backing by perceived good guys like Forrest Claypool and the Sierra Club, takes its biggest toll on Feigenholtz. Feigenholtz has picked up the Steelworkers endorsement, but how many steelworkers live in her base, Lincoln Park, as opposed to how many Sierra Clubbers? Quigley's endorsements don't give him much ground game, but they really smack Feigenholtz in the area she needs to carry, and they cut into Fritchey in the more yuppified/gentrified parts of the district. Which is why the bulk of the Fritchey-Feigneholtz negative campaigning is directed at Quigley.

Tom Geoghegan has the nurses' union and Teamsters Local 743 and possibly some help from other folks whose union is officially backing someone else. 743 was the subject of a pitched battle for the last half-decade or more and the faction that finally won control is very committed to their lawyer, and will put some boots on the ground. These are not stereotype toughs from On the Waterfront, it's a white-collar/green-collar union, hospital and nursing home and university and mail-office employees. Geoghegan is also getting actual volunteers walking in, because of the blogosphere buzz.The question is where all these workers will be deployed. All things being equal, Geoghegan hurts Quigley the most. Quigley has to hope that Geoghegan's people are mainly working in Feigenholtz and Fritchey turf.

O'Connor and Quigley are the only two candidates who started with widespread name recognition outside their own geographic base; the others have had to purchase TV just to try and get even. Quigley does not need to win anywhere, just come in second everywhere. O'Connor, running a curious race, some say is in it to take "Irish" votes from Quigley, word being that Daley is happy if anyone wins except Quigley, although Fritchey claims the same.

Forrest Claypool does not have troops but he does have name recognition, some money, and great e-mail lists. He has a stake in showing some strength because of the county board president race in less than a year. It would help him to show he has some coattails.

The "minor" candidates may do better than anyone thinks, and are probably undercounted by polls. Any decent candidate ought to be able to pull more than 500 votes of friends, family, and those on whose doors they've personally knocked. Jan Donatelli has shown a little spirit and has impressed at some forums, and Forys's Polish targeting is no small matter in a district Rosty once represented and Kaszak did well in. But the minor candidates may not be necessarily taking any votes from anyone, just adding to their own totals.

A number of developments have all hurt Feigenholtz: Fritchey making off with the IVI-IPO endorsement (via support from Gene Schulter); Geoghegan's entry; the Tribune endorsing Quigley; the Reader lumping her in with the second tier on reform issues. Some observers believe she could fall as far as 4th, even 5th if Geoghegan makes a charge. But she will do better than that if her endorsing groups are really burning up the phone lines for her.

It could be that when all is said and done, Stewart is correct in giving the nod to Fritchey based on regular Democratic organization backing, and Quigley just won't have the ground troops to back up his base of name recognition. But Quigley can edge this one out if it's decent weather (predictions are cold but no rain or snow) and e-mail, phone, and general "throw the bums out" feeling elevate turnout a little. An objective, undecided voter who sits down Sunday or Monday night and reads one or more of the Trib, Sun-Times, and Reader, and then maybe double-checks online with a site like Progress Illinois, is more likely than not to end up supporting Quigley as the best bet for a reform Congressman. Quigley will have the pluses to win, the question is whether he can run them.

 
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Carol / March 1, 2009 2:03 PM

how much of a reformer is Quigley as he was on Bernie Hansen's team his entire career? Then he ran Todd Stroger's campaign and he has supported unqualified judicial candidates.

Jeff SmithAuthor Profile Page / March 1, 2009 2:52 PM

Former 44th Ward alderman Bernie Hansen retired 7 years ago, and while a "regular Democrat," had a generally liberal reputation on numerous social and environmental issues. Quigley unquestionably entered politics in Chicago via the 44th and 46th ward organizations, but is also an ardent environmentalist and has forged an independent path since first running for the Cook County Board a decade ago.

Quigley did not run Stroger's campaign. He ran against John Stroger Sr. until he dropped out in 2006 to endorse Forrest Claypool, for whom he campaigned against Todd Stroger. When Todd Stroger won the Democratic primary, almost all local Democratic elected officials endorsed Todd or worked for him against Tony Peraica in the general election. I am not aware of any elected Democrat who actively worked for the Republican nominee. Subsequently, Quigley has been probably the most vocal foe of Stroger on the Board, as well as the unquestionably most visible proponent of TIF reform in Cook County.

Note I wasn't writing on the merits of whether Quigley was a reformer (altho I believe that on balance he certainly is), my entry went to the questions of voter perception and motivation.

I can't respond to your blanket accusation on "unqualified judicial candidates" without specifics, but note that bar evaluations are subject to some politics themselves, and that in any case that gets down to "insider baseball" that is very unlikely to reach the average voter on Tuesday, so it wouldn't change my thesis. We need to change the way we choose judges, period.

Quigley's reputation of reformer has been underscored by the likes of the following:

The Tribune endorsement: http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/vox_pop/2009/02/democrats-best-choice-in-the-5th-mike-quigley-.html

The Sun-Times endorsement: http://www.suntimes.com/news/elections/endorsements/1431229,CST-EDT-edit15.article

The Reader's Ben Joravsky's article on the race:
http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/IL_5th_district/

Progress Illinois's assessment: http://www.progressillinois.com/2009/2/26/il-5-candidate-assessment

Sandra Verthein / March 1, 2009 6:38 PM

Great article, Jeff! I couldn't have said it better myself. Plus nice rebuttal of "Carol" comment. It is funny how on every blog post that mentions Quigley the very first comment always brings up these same allegations. It is almost like someone has a vested interest in trying to smear him ..... Gee whiz, I wonder who that could be???

Actually, given how many corrupt politicians Quigley speaks out about he probably has quite a few targets on his back besides just his current competitors for IL-05.

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