Convention could start 2018 Dem race for governor

Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget fight with Illinois Democrats is on hold, but hundreds of miles away, Democrats are talking at their Philadelphia convention about who among them might take on the first-term Republican governor in 2018.

Chris Kennedy, for example, an Illinois businessman and member of the famed Kennedy family, spoke to Illinois delegates at their morning breakfast Monday, but he didn't take questions about whether he's a candidate afterward.

"He's one of those undeclared, declared candidates," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat.

Kennedy is not the only one. Chatter about the 2018 race has surrounded a number of prominent Illinois Democrats, including senior U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield, who has been trying to publicly tamp down talks for weeks.

"Instead of focusing on nominating the next president of the United States and making certain that the Democrats regain majorities in the Senate and the House, they were thinking forward 30 months to the next election," Durbin told WBEZ. "And I've told them, for goodness sakes, don't take your eye off the prize here."

But vying for political jobs is what politicians do, and Link said the convention is "without a doubt" the first windup toward the 2018 campaign.

Other high-profile Illinois Democrats at the convention include: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Mike Frerichs and state Sens. Kwame Raoul of Chicago and Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, all of whom have been raised as potential candidates.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn, known for decades for his populist messages, is back home organizing for a ballot initiative to put term limits on the Chicago mayor. There has been speculation on whether he might attempt another run at Rauner, who beat Quinn in 2014.

Delegate Dan Johnson of Wilmette said 2018 candidates don't need to be at the convention.

"But it's a great idea," he said. "It's four days with 200-plus active Democrats. It's hard to find a place where you can just hang out with (House Speaker) Mike Madigan and (Senate President) John Cullerton and (Chicago mayor) Rahm Emanuel and (Cook County Board President) Toni Preckwinkle."

The speculation and low-key maneuvering could continue at next month's Illinois State Fair, often one of the biggest political gatherings of the year for both parties.

Does a big Democratic primary to take on Rauner lie down the road? Link thinks the candidates will at least try to avoid a major battle.

"I have a funny feeling that if there's three or four of them that are strongly interested," Link said, "that they'll be sitting down and talking about it."

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