Democratic House candidate John Bartman was appointed to the ballot in July when Representative Jack Franks (D-Marengo) dropped out of the race to run for McHenry County Board chair. Bartman is not getting help from the House Democrats, who appear to have all but conceded.

Franks’ district is solidly Republican. President Barack Obama lost it by 8 points four years ago. Franks has been able to win it because, well, he’s Jack Franks. He talks a good Republican line back home and takes some high-profile votes against his own party. Bartman is no Jack Franks.

Even so, the Republicans say they want to “drown” any possible chance that Bartman may have. So they’ve launched a negative cable-TV blitz, with similar ads on radio and in the mail. Republican candidate Steven Reick reported $187,000 in contributions from October 1 through 21, which is about $65K more than he and the Republicans spent in this district during the entire third quarter.

“Under Speaker [Michael] Madigan’s watchful eye, Bartman will be forced to raise your property taxes to fuel more wasteful government spending for his political boss,” the spot says.

As I’ve said before, Republicans truly believe they found the magic elixir this year by constantly invoking the horribly unpopular Madigan’s name.

GOP Representative Dwight Kay, for instance, was quoted in the Belleville News-Democrat last week as saying: “The first thing we need to do to get the budget balanced is to see that Mike Madigan goes home.”

That’s a pretty tall order, but if it works electorally and the Republicans hold onto their incumbents and pick up some Democratic seats, they’ll undoubtedly say that Madigan has become so toxic to his own members that it’s time for him to go.

Some of the Republican ads I’ve seen this year mention Madigan’s name even when it’s not relevant to the ad’s messaging. Perhaps the inclusion gives the attack added weight because Madigan is so unpopular. It’s also likely designed to keep the Republican “theme” going regardless of content.

But I have also come to suspect it’s being done so they can claim that they used Madigan in almost all of their negative ads, and that’s why they prevailed over the Democrats.

And if it doesn’t work, just look at Governor Bruce Rauner’s comments throughout the summer and fall for a preview of what they’ll say the day after the election.

The governor has repeatedly pointed to Madigan’s “undemocratic” legislative map, which he says has “rigged” the election against the Republicans. You gotta figure he’ll use that as his excuse if Madigan comes out on top, as well as infinite references to Donald Trump’s electoral performance.

But aren’t quite a few pundits saying that Trump’s repeated refrain that the election will be rigged has hurt him further by depressing his base of support?

They could be right, but Rauner has added a twist.

“We’ve got a system that is rigged,” Rauner told WAND’s Doug Wolfe in late August.

But then he did something that Trump isn’t doing. He talked about a solution: “We’ve got gerrymandered districts that are shaped like spaghetti noodles in many cases designed to protect incumbents.”

So, Rauner said, Illinoisans need to support reforms such as redistricting and term limits.

And whenever Rauner says this, he adds that the best way to get those reforms is to elect more people who will work with him, mainly Republicans. And the worst thing to do is to vote for anyone associated with Madigan.

What Rauner is doing is quite clever. He uses Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric without all that “nasty” Trump baggage.

Of course, if Trump does unintentionally depress his own base, that would be really bad news for Rauner, who is counting on that base to turn out and vote his way – which is one reason why he won’t say anything that directly criticizes Trump.

Democrat Jack Franks was able to avoid defeat for 18 years in a Republican district, which makes Rauner’s argument about redistricting reform look a little silly.

The point is, though, that strange things happen in politics. Stay tuned.

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