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Illinois Democrats not planning any hugs at convention in Charlotte

President Obamspeaks with Gov. Quinn after Obamarrives O'Hare International Airport. FILE PHOTO

President Obama speaks with Gov. Quinn after Obama arrives at O'Hare International Airport. FILE PHOTO

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:23AM



When Illinois Democrats arrive in Charlotte, N.C., for their party’s national convention this week, they are a group far different than four years ago, when Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan were made to engage in an awkward hug to defuse their blood feud.

Blagojevich, of course, now sits in a federal prison in Littleton, Colo., and at least now, there is no longer the open warfare, which to some senior party leaders is an important sign of progress.

“There’s not going to be any dramatic hugs, in part because there don’t need to be any dramatic hugs at this convention,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “I’m not really sensing any particular tensions that would, you know, keep us from working together on the legislative, on the congressional and the presidential races.”

When delegates and their guests open their weeklong political retreat in North Carolina, they’ll be pushing for a blowout for President Barack Obama in his home state, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will have the distraction of a potential Chicago teachers strike, and delegates will be sizing up Gov. Pat Quinn’s re-election possibilities. Will Quinn be a viable candidate in two years or will another Democrat rise up to challenge him?

Despite controlling the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, Illinois’ Democrats still are a dysfunctional bunch unable to solve some of the state’s biggest problems — the state’s $83 billion pension crisis, for one.

And they are led by a governor with a strikingly low approval rating with voters. Quinn has also alienated a core Democratic constituency that helped elect him, the public-sector employee unions fighting him on state facility closures and pension reform.

Despite the divisions, the party is united behind the main purpose of the Democratic National Convention, which, of course, is all about making the case that Obama deserves a second term and rebutting the talking points of the now-finished GOP convention in Tampa that the president has been an abject failure in fixing the economy.

“I want to stick to the facts. That would be an important thing for the people to hear: the truth about President Obama’s record and his leadership,” Quinn said in an interview Friday with the Chicago Sun-Times. “I obviously have known him for many years since he first got elected in 1996 in the state Senate. I’ve worked directly with him when he was a state senator and a U.S. senator. He has been a fighter for workers and veterans and families, and most of all jobs.

“I think it’s important to get those concepts out there and contrast him with his opponent, [Mitt Romney], who’d be the president of the few, by the few and for the few,” Quinn continued. “We have to make sure the difference is seen there and will lay out as many differences as we can.”

Republicans spent their week in Tampa savagely bashing Obama for failing to deliver on his “hope and change” agenda to fix the economy.

“We’re going to have a great opportunity at our convention to give people the positive reasons to be supporting Barack Obama in continuing on a path, where he really is on the side of ordinary people, really for building the middle class,” Schakowsky said. “The Republicans left a lot of space for us at our convention to set the record straight and to speak for our candidate.”

Quinn will be joined by Emanuel, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in leading Illinois Democrats to Charlotte and helping tout Obama.

“On the big issue of the economy, I think President Obama has done well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times, “and internationally he’s doing what he promised he’d do, which was get us out of one war and wind down the other.”

Quinn, Emanuel and Durbin will have speaking roles at the party’s convention podium, along with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and northwest suburban congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, making the state well represented in the nationally televised narrative to re-elect Obama.

Emanuel comes to Charlotte riding high with voters, though he’ll have to spend half of his time in Charlotte with an eye toward developments involving a possible Chicago teachers strike that could start Sept. 10.

A poll of 507 Chicagoans between Aug. 25 and 27 by the Washington D.C. lobbying group, Purple Strategies, found that Emanuel was viewed favorably by 73 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans and independents.

Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, has said he’ll highlight in his convention floor speech the president’s efforts in bailing out the auto industry and showcase Obama as a “man of courage, a man of conviction and a man of vision.”

Emanuel will be one of the first Illinois Democrats pitching Obama’s re-election who’ll be heard on a national stage because he’ll start the week out Sunday with an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Unlike Emanuel, Quinn comes into his convention role with a popularity deficit. A recent poll of 5,000 suburban and Downstate voters showed him with a 35-percent approval rating, nowhere near the 50-percent approval benchmark where incumbents thinking about re-election hope to be, though another poll by Preckwinkle had Quinn above 50 percent in Cook County.

Last week, the governor was flogged on a daily basis by Illinois Republicans who were part of their party’s national convention in Tampa, where U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and Treasurer Dan Rutherford were coyly auditioning for a possible 2014 GOP gubernatorial run against Quinn.

“I don’t have any personal dislike for anybody in politics, even when they call me bad names. I figure a knock from some of these individuals is a plug for me,” said Quinn.

The governor made a direct jab at all four Republican rivals, who currently served or once served in the General Assembly.

“This pension thing, that didn’t happen overnight. It was created by folks who served in the Legislature and didn’t do anything about pension reform. They kicked that can down the road, and now they want to be officeholders at the statewide level. They’ve got a record that isn’t a good one,” Quinn told the Sun-Times.

The governor still has not made it official that he’s a 2014 candidate for re-election, but the Chicago Democrat sure speaks the part of someone wanting another four years in the Executive Mansion, a cause he’ll be able to begin making in Charlotte even without making a re-election campaign official.

Quinn said he is not bothered by his approval ratings, which he said is a reflection of some of the tough choices he has had to make, including Medicaid cuts and facility closures, which have angered unions.

“I got elected in 2010. I think the New York Times said I had an 8-percent chance winning, all this stuff about approval numbers. Campaigns are between candidates, their records, their philosophies. I think we have a good record. This year, we restructured Medicaid reform. We paid down $1.3 billion in bills, cut the budget, the discretionary budget by 9 percent in our office. Some of these Republican statewide offices couldn’t do that,” Quinn said. “We did.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet and Natasha Korecki



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