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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gut Check For Illinois Democrats

It’s never a good sign when a news report on your freshly-annointed statewide candidate appears on a network “true crime” site. Nor is it helpful when the report contains the words “criminal charges,” “pawnbroker,” “domestic battery,” “knife,” “prostitute,” and “massage parlor.”:
But that’s the reality facing Illinois Democrats today–a day that was supposed to feature a concession by Dan Hynes that he had narrowly lost the gubernatorial nomination to Pat Quinn, followed no doubt by unity gestures.
Instead, the big political news (broken by the Chicago Tribune) is that Scott Lee Cohen, a previously obscure Chicago pawnbroker who won the nomination for Lieutenant Governor over a scattered field in a low-turnout primary this week (after running millions of dollars in ads touting his support for Job Fairs), got arrested in 2005 for allegedly attacking his girl friend with a knife. The charges were dropped when the alleged victim failed to show up in court, but that hardly matters politically. Cohen admits they had a drunken fight (though without knifeplay), and while he protests he didn’t know the girl friend had earlier been arrested for prostitution in connection with her work at a massage parlor (he said he thought she was a “massage therapist”), the whole thing is obviously maximum tabloid-and-talk-show bait of the worst sort.
The sad thing is that the job Cohen’s running for is largely ceremonial, and few people care who occupies it so long as the governor is hale and hearty. But even though candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run independently in the primary, the nominees form a joint ticket (i.e., if you vote for Pat Quinn, you automatically vote for Cohen as well).
Politically aware people over a certain age were immediately reminded of the disaster that struck Illinois Democrats back in 1986, when low-turnout primaries for Lt. Governor and Secretary of State were won by Lyndon Larouche disciples. Gubernatorial nominee Adlai Stevenson III, who started the year as the favorite to win the office, spent much of his campaign trying to disassociate himself from his deranged ticket-mates, and what should have been a great Democratic year turned out very poorly.
Word on the street is that Gov. Pat Quinn is moving immediately to organize Democratic elected officials to pressure Cohen into dropping out of the campaign. If he succeeds quickly, he should convince all Illinois Democrats that he has the chops to manage the publicity surrounding the upcoming trial of his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, and get through a tough political year.

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