Despite lingering disagreements, top Illinois Democrats sign onto ‘coordinated campaign’ | Govt-and-politics

Nearly 100 years after he uttered it, actor Will Rogers’ quote assessing his political party still largely stands up: “I am not a member of any organized political party — I am a Democrat.”

The country’s main center-left political party has always been a diverse, big-tent coalition of varying ideological, racial, religious and ethnic groups along with collective interest groups like organized labor.

As happens in any big family, there are disagreements and internal fights are expected.

In Illinois, such drama has played out behind the scenes over the past year with competing factions battling for control of the state party apparatus following the resignation of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who chaired the party for more than two decades.

In March 2021, the Democratic State Central Committee — by the slimmest of margins — elected U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, its chair. Kelly, endorsed by Sen. Dick Durbin, beat out Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris, who was backed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson speaks at the Illinois Democratic County Chair’s Association brunch in Springfield before Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 18, 2021. Kelly is the state Democratic Party chair.

Kelly is running for a full four-year term. That election will likely be held in July or August.

Despite winning the first round, there is no guarantee that Kelly will be reelected given lingering concerns over her ability to fundraise. As a federal officeholder, she’s unable to raise or control funds for state and local candidates, which has traditionally been a major part of the job.

Pritzker noticeably would not say last week if he would support Kelly for a full term. This prompted Durbin, when asked by me on Saturday, to urge the governor to back her.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin - mug


“We should be together as a party and we ought to say to Robin Kelly, ‘job well done, you deserve another term,’” Durbin said. “I wish all the elected officials could say that to her and put this behind us.”

“(Pritzker) of course has to make his own decision,” he continued. “But, a unified party is in the best interest not only of the state, but in the best interest of his re-election.”

Who controls the levers of power is important. But much of it is also inside baseball.

After all, despite the squabbles between Durbin, Pritzker and others seeking meaningful influence over the state party for the first time in decades, it appears the state’s Democratic elected officials are on the same page on one thing: making sure they stay in power following the November election.

Pritzker and Durbin in Decatur

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, left, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, look at an electrical code handbook during an April 2018 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146 Training Center in Decatur.

Indeed, the Democratic Party of Illinois announced Monday the creation of “Organize Illinois 2022,” a coordinated campaign meant to ensure that Democrats are elected up and down the ballot this fall.

The effort will be chaired by outgoing Secretary of State Jesse White, who is routinely the state’s top vote-getter and remains one of its most popular politicians.

“This coordinated campaign will benefit all Democratic nominees by efficiently using shared resources, data, and messaging to ensure Illinois remains a beacon for our shared values,” White said. “We’ve all seen just how extreme Illinois Republicans have become. Illinois Democrats can and will fight back with a united front at every level.”

The effort will be housed within the Democratic Party of Illinois, currently led by Kelly, and perhaps most importantly, has been signed off on by Pritzker, Durbin and Duckworth, along with the other Democratic statewide elected officials, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside.


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Dick Durbin listen to students explain operation of electrical vehicles at Heartland Community College in Bloomington on Feb. 12, 2022.

The operation is likely to be funded by Pritzker, whose campaign transferred $500,000 into the state party’s fund last Friday.

The effort is a reflection of a new openness in the state party to collaboration and sharing resources with other Democratic campaigns. Under Madigan, the state party had largely become a glorified post office — state parties get a large discount on postage for campaign materials — for House Democrats.

Many candidates outside that realm were left to their own devices, making for a lack of party cohesion even as Democrats slowly increased their hold over the state’s political offices.

So even as they squabble over who controls what, it appears the state’s main Democratic players are on the same page on the larger mission. Whether it’s successful is another question.

No doubt, the status of the state party is important, especially as Illinois competes to be among the influential early Democratic primary states in future presidential elections and with Chicago’s bid to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

Pritzker mug


But if the party maintains its dominant status following the November election, a lot of this jousting among party insiders will largely remain fodder for political junkies.

In Illinois, Rogers’ quote has largely stood up given the disjointed, disorganized state party apparatus. We will soon find if, despite lingering disagreements, “Organize Illinois 2022” changes that. 

Contact Brenden Moore at 217-421-7984. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13

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