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March 19, 2014 10:00 AM Illinois Test Cases

By Ed Kilgore

I’m not very familiar with the sometimes byzantine politics of Illinois. But it sure looks like primary voters there yesterday set up a reasonably straightforward couple of tests for November in the marquee gubernatorial and Senate races.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, at one time the least popular governor in the country, but one who managed to head off major primary challenges, is staking his re-election to the same issue Democrats nationally are expected to emphasize: a minimum wage increase. Meanwhile his gazillionaire-businessman opponent, Bruce Rauner, is modeling his public persona on Scott Walker of neighboring Wisconsin, blaming public sector unions for all the state’s fiscal and economic problems.

If the general election campaign rolls out as expected, it will represent a classic comparative presentation of the two parties’ economic messages in the region of the country where “wrong track” sentiment is probably highest.

Meanwhile, to challenge Sen. Dick Durbin, Republicans nominated another self-funder, but one who can’t exactly play the political novice card, semi-perennial candidate and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis. After five unsuccessful races for the House and Senate and the governorship, Oberweis managed finally to get himself elected to the state senate, but an incident during the primary campaign showed why he’s struggled: he jetted off to vacation (and do a fundraiser!) with his wife in Florida just as a major snowstorm was heading straight for Illinois. His lightly regarded primary opponent began referring to him as a “snowbird,” and Oberweis struggled to the finish line.

Everything about Oberweis suggests a candidate who could only win if RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ prediction of a 2014 “tsunami” actually came true.

UPDATE: Sean Sullivan’s “takeaways” from the Illinois primary at WaPo noted that none of the three Republicans who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state legislature lost yesterday (though one struggled to win renomination). And he also observes that Rauner’s union-bashing message will probably push Illinois’ labor movement firmly into Quinn’s camp despite widespread unhappiness with the incumbent’s own public pension cuts.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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