Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) was one of just a tiny handful of Illinois Democratic state legislators who backed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid over the local favorite Barack Obama.

Sandoval's district and most of Chicagoland's Latino precincts went for Clinton in the February primary, so it was probably a smart move. Plus, Sandoval has been engaged in a full-blown Statehouse war with Senate President Emil Jones for well over a year, so backing Clinton against Jones' political godson had its "stick in the eye" advantages.

Unsurprisingly, Clinton's defeat hasn't automatically put Sandoval in the Obama camp.

Sandoval met privately with Republican presidential candidate John McCain last week, and he told the Associated Press the next day that he was leaving open the possibility of endorsing the man. Sandoval told me last week that the meeting went well, and said McCain promised to be an advocate for Latino issues. McCain, Sandoval said, did not ask him for an endorsement, but did ask that they continue to meet, which Sandoval agreed to do.

McCain was also apparently aware that Sandoval was on the outs with many of his Senate Democratic colleagues because of the fight with Senate President Jones, and McCain used that division to his advantage during the meeting.

Immigration reform has been a political problem for McCain. His push last year for a bipartisan solution to the situation earned him heaps of scorn from the right wing of his party and just about killed off his candidacy. He started to gain ground around the time that he flipped a bit on the issue.

McCain reminded Sandoval that the last president to do anything major about immigration reform was a Republican, Ronald Reagan. Sandoval claimed McCain told him that the immigration issue would be "one of the hallmarks of my presidency." Reagan's immigration policy included an amnesty program for those here illegally, but McCain never uttered the "A" word.

"I'm a Democrat, but I'm not wedded to any political party," Sandoval told me. "You need to reach out to us, meet with us, make us part of the strategy. If that's not there, then I'm not with them," he said of Obama's campaign.

Senator Sandoval dismissed a recent poll of 800 Latino voters in 21 states that showed Obama with a huge 60-23 lead over McCain, claiming that the numbers will be a lot closer once Latino voters are in the privacy of the voting booth.

Sandoval also dismissed Obama's recent hiring of Chicago Latina leader Patti Solis Doyle, who was forced out of the Clinton campaign after several missteps.

If hiring Doyle, the sister of a Chicago alderman, is Obama's "gesture to the community," Sandoval said, that won't be nearly enough. Obama, he said, "needs to reach out to Latino community leaders, people like myself, and have a dialogue."

Doyle's brother, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, teamed up with Alderman Manny Flores a couple of years ago to back a primary candidate against Senator Sandoval, which probably explains Sandoval's harsh attitude toward Doyle. (Clinton's personal touch likely overcame this problem for Sandoval.) Sandoval has been a longtime supporter of the now largely invisible but still existent Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), and Alderman Solis has been at war with the HDO for the past few years.

There's little doubt that McCain would love to have a Democratic legislator from Obama's home state on his campaign team. The propaganda advantages would be enormous, regardless of the reasons for Sandoval's defection.

Right now, though, Sandoval is still hesitant to make the big move, while blatantly telegraphing his message to Obama that his needs ought to be considered.

Sandoval's flirtation with McCain while his hand is stretched outward (palms up) toward Obama isn't a particularly new thing in politics. It's as old as politics itself.

But it's a marvelous confluence of opportunities for Sandoval. He can help himself either way he chooses. He can be the shining star of McCain's Latino-outreach effort, or secure some influence within the Obama campaign, while sticking it to his nemesis Emil Jones yet again no matter what he does.

Cynical? Yep. Opportunistic? Oh, yeah. But that's hardball politics, my friends.

Come to think of it, there is one downside. The Obama campaign could dirty Sandoval up in an effort to make him too radioactive for McCain. That would be the "Chicago way."

We'll see how it goes.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and (

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher