Why suburban primary ballots won't be so packed
As the budget fight in Springfield continues its slow, historically long slog, fewer local candidates are beating down the doors to get into the Illinois Capitol.
So far in 2016, there are just five contested primary elections in a selection of North and Northwest suburban districts. The number dropped from six just this week when a candidate left a Lake County race for Illinois Senate.
With pending challenges to nominating petitions, the number could drop to as low as three in the coming weeks.
In 2014, voters in the same selection of districts had choices to make in 13 contested primary races, many of them contentious ideological battles.
Are potential candidates wary of entering an increasingly difficult political atmosphere?
State Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican who overcame a tough primary challenge in 2014, says he doesn't think that's the whole picture. He notes that races have developed in a few districts where a lawmaker is leaving. For example, seven candidates have lined up for the seats being vacated by retiring Republicans Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington and Rep. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake.
Republicans, Sandack said, have been united in their support of Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaking with "one voice" more reliably than in previous years. So a GOP challenge to a sitting lawmaker could be seen as an affront to what Rauner's trying to do, and that wouldn't result in much party support.
"The Rauner experiment is in its infancy and needs a couple cycles to get its legs," Sandack said.
Behind Sandack's opponent and a few other challengers last time was a campaign committee directed by radio host and former gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft.
Proft says now it is a "fair assessment" that Republicans are trying to stay behind Rauner. Still, he says his committee, Liberty Principles PAC, could get involved in some primary contests where an incumbent isn't running.
"That is something I am absolutely reviewing but have not made any decisions yet," he said.
On the Democratic side, the campaign committee IllinoisGo loomed this year as a group that could recruit Democrats to run in primaries against sitting lawmakers after House Speaker Michael Madigan issued a warning. As of the end of September, the group was sitting on nearly $9 million it could put into races, according to state records.
IllinoisGo touts wanting to improve the state's financial picture, and spokeswoman Amy Gooden says it wants to support candidates "based on the policy results in Springfield," she said.
In the end, no suburban Democratic incumbent faces a primary challenge, and the only contested March race set now is the one to replace state Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin, who chose to run for Congress over re-election.
With or without primaries, November looms large for both parties' futures in Springfield, as Republicans with Rauner's backing try to cut into Democrats' veto-proof majorities.
And both sides are expected to play hard.
On Monday, the Illinois State Board of Elections will begin reviewing the petition signatures candidates collected to get on the ballot.
There are challenges to candidates in two suburban races, and if neither candidate is allowed on the March ballot, the number of contested local Statehouse primaries will drop to three.