Presidential hopefuls woo prominent suburban Democrats, who say sorry, give us a little time
But local leaders aren't ready to pick favorites just yet
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is dodging senators, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is being polite and state Sen. Melinda Bush is weighing her options.
The Illinois primary is months off, but prominent suburban Democrats are being wooed by presidential hopefuls and grass-roots campaigners are plotting strategy.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have directly sought support from Franks, former chairman of Hillary Clinton's Illinois 2008 campaign. "I haven't committed to anyone -- it's a bit premature," he said.
With 184 delegates up for grabs, Illinois is "a key battleground," Franks said. And by the March 17 primary, the field of 20 or so contenders should be downsized enough that "I think they'll be scrapping for every vote."
Numerous top-tier Democrats parachuting into Chicago this summer have included former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who just opened a campaign office in the city.
How do you say "no" politely to an eager politician who wants your support? "I tell them I appreciate them running, I know how hard it is, and I say, 'Thank you,'" said Franks, who lives in Marengo.
Bush's phone also is busy. "I've heard from a couple of the campaigns who asked if I've made a decision. Frankly, I haven't yet," the legislator from Grayslake said.
Krishnamoorthi, who lives in Schaumburg, wants time to evaluate the field but notes that's difficult at the Capitol with seven senators vying to be president.
"One person in particular is very interested in getting my endorsement," he recalled.
He dropped into an event incognito "to see how this person conducted themselves" but was spotted by a staffer who informed the candidate.
"I started moseying out of the room as quickly as I could. As I was leaving, the person said, 'I'd like to recognize Raja Krishnamoorthi. Raja, will you come up and say a few words?'" Krishnamoorthi recounted with a laugh, adding he escaped with his neutrality intact.
Delegates who wish to get on the Illinois ballot can begin circulating petitions Oct. 5. Convention hopefuls new to the process should check with their county Democratic Party for information. Ultimately the presidential candidates will decide whom they want to represent them.
The minimum number of signatures required is about 500 and the filing period commences Jan. 2 and 3, but ironically "some of those presidential campaigns will be folded before the primary election," former Democratic Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake said.
A plethora of presidential candidates should mean a bumper crop of delegates on the ballot.
Illinois will send 184 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, with 101 allocated to congressional districts, using a formula related to how many Democratic votes were cast, for voters to choose. For example, the 6th Congressional District gets six delegates, while the 8th, 10th, 11th and 14th congressional districts have five delegates each.
That means if eight or 10 Democrats remain in the race in early 2020, there could be up to 50 delegates on the March 17 ballot.
"It's a bit of a logistical puzzle," said Cynthia Borbas, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of DuPage County. Her organization is gearing up to assist potential delegates, although it won't endorse in the primary.
Statewide, the Democratic Party of Illinois is holding a series of forums in September to educate delegates on the process, with stops in Aurora, Crystal Lake, Schaumburg and Warrenville.
Meanwhile, grass-roots organizations have plunged into the election.
DuPage for Bernie Sanders coordinator Mary Sunde said her group so far has 800 members registered on Facebook who are already plugging the Vermont independent.
"We are currently working on phone banks to engage with voters across the nation, including undecided voters," Sunde said, adding the Sanders campaign is advising with logistics.
With summer winding down, primary fever is building, said Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association President Kristina Zahorik, who lives in McHenry County.
"As Midwesterners, we're told not to not talk about politics -- no politics, no religion, no money," she said. "But there's been a pivot where people are talking about these things and what it means to be American."