CHICAGO – With early voting just weeks away, the Democratic candidates vying for a shot to replace Attorney General Lisa Madigan are raising millions of dollars, crisscrossing Illinois and touting endorsements.
Eight Democrats are trying to stand out from the crowded field, despite similar views and promises to fight President Donald Trump’s agenda. The open race features a former governor, state legislators, a police reform leader, a mayor and former federal prosecutors.
On the Republican side, Urbana attorney Erika Harold, a former Miss America, has establishment backing over a lesser-known county board member.
Here’s a look at the March 20 Democratic primary:
• Kwame Raoul, 53, is a Chicago state senator. He was appointed in 2004 to replace Barack Obama, who’d been elected to the U.S. Senate.
• Scott Drury, 45, a Highwood state representative, swapped his gubernatorial bid for attorney general. The former federal prosecutor became a legislator in 2013.
• Pat Quinn, 69, assumed the governor’s office from his lieutenant governor job when Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges and impeached. Quinn won office outright in 2010, but lost re-election in 2014.
• Sharon Fairley, 57, is a former federal prosecutor named by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to overhaul a police oversight organization after video of a white officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald was publicly released.
• Aaron Goldstein, 42, represented Blagojevich at two corruption trials. In 2016, he won a ward committeeman post over Dick Mell, Blagojevich’s father-in-law.
• Jesse Ruiz, 52, heads the Chicago Park District’s board. He’s served as the chairman of the State Board of Education and as a Chicago Board of Education vice president.
• Nancy Rotering, 56, is Highland Park mayor. She made an unsuccessful primary bid for the U.S. House in 2016, despite U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s endorsement.
• Renato Mariotti, 41, a former federal prosecutor and frequent television commentator, is making his first bid for public office.
The horse race
When it comes to statewide name recognition, Quinn leads.
A former state treasurer, he was known for populist tactics, such as walking across Illinois to promote universal health care. Since losing the governor’s race to Republican Bruce Rauner he’s tried to stay in the public eye, including circulating petitions for term limits on Chicago mayor.
However, Quinn doesn’t have establishment backing.
The Cook County Democratic Party unanimously endorsed Raoul during November slating session. Raoul has also picked up union support.
Some candidates including Drury, are casting themselves as outsiders. He was the sole Democrat last year not to vote for Mike Madigan – the father of Lisa Madigan – as House speaker, a post he’s long held.
Fundraising experts say the attorney general’s race is the most closely watched statewide contest after the expensive gubernatorial election.
A clearer picture will emerge with next week’s fundraising disclosure deadline, but an early look shows Raoul leading with over $1.2 million raised, including donations from unions and the tobacco industry.
Drury raised over $800,000, followed by Fairley and Rotering, who have over $550,000 each. Trailing them are Ruiz, Quinn, Goldstein and Mariotti.
The candidates’ stances are hard to distinguish on a variety of issues, including immigrant-friendly views and supporting marijuana legalization. They call the office a last line of defense in fighting the Republican president’s agenda and all pledge to do more to fight sexual harassment.
There are slight differences in their goals for the office, which through Lisa Madigan’s tenure focused on consumer rights.
Rotering hopes to tackle gun violence and push an assault weapons ban. Goldstein and Drury say fighting public corruption is a priority. Fairley says Illinois has had too many career politicians.
Goldstein “Having real criminal justice reform, stopping mass incarceration and fighting corruption, that’s what I would do as attorney general.”
Mariotti: “I’m running for attorney general because we don’t live in an ordinary time ... We are in a crisis. We have a president who is violating our constitutional rights.”
Rotering: “You need to deal with public corruption... It’s not a joke. It’s not what our state is. This is inefficient government.”
Ruiz: “I want to protect our health care. I want to protect our safety and our communities. I want to protect our environment and make sure I’m an advocate for the people of Illinois.”
Fairley: “The people of Illinois are tired of our political leaders failing to address the challenges we face, leaving our state stuck in a seemingly never-ending crisis.”
Raoul: “The office of attorney general has an opportunity to direct victims’ resources ... I’m going to make sure the most victimized communities get those resources.”
Drury: “I’m not running to be a spokesperson for the machine. I’m not running to be a spokesperson for lobbyists. I’m not running to be a spokesperson for special interests. I am running for you.”
Quinn: “I want to be the lawyer for the people of Illinois. That’s really the definition of the office.”