Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State address Wednesday gives the Democrat a pulpit to take some of the 2014 political attention back from the four Republican candidates for governor who have been criticizing him.
He's likely to spend at least some time on recent political victories, including signing last month a law cutting public workers' pension benefits.
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Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said he'll do some reflecting on the past but also put a focus on the economy and middle class. Quinn has publicly supported raising the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.
"It will be jobs, jobs and what's necessary to create jobs," she said.
Democrats across the country are trying to craft a message for 2014 that emphasizes the middle class, and it's one the populist Quinn is likely to embrace. He often punctuates his speeches with: "Everybody in, nobody left out."
Perhaps personifying that point, Downers Grove North senior Anne Wagner has been invited to see the speech in person. Wagner, who has Down syndrome, missed some of her high school career after being diagnosed with leukemia but was crowned homecoming queen in October.
Still, Anderson says Quinn will be "honest" about the challenges the state faces, too. Illinois still can't pay its bills on time despite a 2011 income tax increase championed by the governor.
And he'll deliver his speech before an Illinois General Assembly whose paychecks he cut off for weeks because of the then-stalled pensions debate.
Most specific budget plans will be saved until Quinn's February budget address, Anderson said.
Anderson said Quinn inherited a tough economy, and recovery takes some time. It's a theme President Barack Obama tried to stress in his own 2012 re-election campaign. Quinn is a big Obama fan.
"It's long. It's hard. It's painful," Anderson said.
Quinn's potential Republican opponents, who will compete for nomination in the March 18 primary, have been telling voters Illinois' recovery should have been shorter, easier and more comfortable.
Illinois' unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the country, and economic issues continue to enter the state's political debate. Just last month, Office Depot Inc. announced it would leave the former Office Max headquarters in DuPage County, acquired in a merger, and put its offices in Florida instead.
Two of Quinn's possible Republican opponents, state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, as sitting lawmakers, are likely to have good seats for the speech, and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner are certain to offer critiques afterward, too.
Toward the end of a statewide, televised debate Thursday, Dillard began his closing statement by putting his focus on Quinn.
"I can guarantee you that all four of us up here agree on one thing, and that's that Pat Quinn needs to go," he said.