Miller: Much interest in attorney general run but it’s all up to Lisa
By Rich Miller May 19, 2013 5:38PM
Updated: June 21, 2013 6:19AM
One of the worst-kept secrets over the past few weeks is that House Minority Leader Tom Cross has been considering a run for Illinois attorney general.
Cross (R-Oswego) has reportedly been asked by state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-18th) to think about a bid in case Attorney General Lisa Madigan decides to run for governor, or not for anything.
A former county prosecutor, Cross has long eyed the attorney general position. But as recently as a few weeks ago, his people were denying that he would seek it. Now, they’re saying it’s a possibility.
Calls from top Republicans and some major GOP fundraisers have apparently helped persuade him to consider such a campaign.
“Any time you have so many people requesting that you consider something, you owe it to them to do some due diligence,” one Cross backer explained.
Republicans believe they have a decent shot at winning the powerful office, after picking up two other statewide offices in 2010. State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) is so far the only other Republican openly considering the office. But there’s doubt that Durkin will pull the trigger.
Durkin ran against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2002, beating both Jim Oberweis and John Cox in the GOP primary election but losing the general election with just 38 percent of the vote.
Durkin was heavily involved in both of John McCain’s presidential bids, so he has significant statewide experience. But serious doubts about whether he will run for attorney general have caused some top folks to start coalescing behind Cross.
Cross’ people stress that their boss hasn’t made a final decision, but they acknowledge that it would be rather awkward if Cross and Durkin run against each other in a primary. They say the two are friends and figure they’ll work things out one way or the other come summertime.
It’s possible that Durkin could be a potential Cross replacement as House GOP Leader if Cross runs statewide and he doesn’t.
For now, though, nothing has been decided — partly because everybody is waiting to see what Lisa Madigan does and partly because there’s still time to sort everything out within the party.
Durkin was obviously caught by surprise by Cross’ decision to publicly reveal his intentions. But he pushed back against those who say he’s not seriously putting a campaign together. He said he has met with a pollster and a fundraiser as well as with the Republican Attorney General Association.
However, Durkin said he has told people “consistently” that there’s no vacancy at the moment, so he’s going to wait to see what Madigan does before making a decision.
As far as Cross goes, Durkin said “we’re good friends, and no matter what happens we will continue to be good friends.”
Cross has not had much luck, to say the least, in winning new House seats under two successive Democratic legislative maps in a Democratic-trending state, although he fared better than the Senate Republicans did last year.
House Republicans are deeply divided along geographic and ideological lines and holding them together is no easy task. After years of iron-fisted control of the caucus by Lee Daniels, Cross promised to be a more democratic (small d) leader.
But that has resulted in some embarrassing results, including recently when a majority of his caucus voted against a pension reform bill that Cross had been advocating for years.
No other Republicans besides Durkin have yet floated their names for attorney general, according to the Trial Balloons website.
The Democratic list is long, however. State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Chicago Board of Education member and prominent Latino attorney Jesse Ruiz, and state Reps. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) and John Bradley (D-Marion) are all possible candidates, as is Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
If Madigan pursues a higher office, Republicans figure they at least have a shot at gaining her post. A crowded Democratic primary for attorney general could cause a surprising election result, so Republicans definitely want to be ready in case they get a relatively weak opponent.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com