(Chicago, IL) – September 28, 2010. Downstate Illinois has seen an influx of state cash and personal visits from Governor Pat Quinn, as the Chicago Democrat looks to reverse his unpopularity in the region.
Quinn has made three trips in as many days to cities in central and southern Illinois touting several infrastructure projects spearheaded by his administration.
The state is dedicating $800,000 from the governor’s Illinois Jobs Now initiative, as part of a $12 million public-private partnership, which will increase internet accessibility in Litchfield and put an estimated 35 people back to work. And airport renovations in Peoria and Cahokia will create hundreds of jobs in a region that has been hit hard by the recession, at a cost of $5.4 million and $7.1 million, respectively.
But Quinn is hoping to save one job in particular through such announcements: his own.
Quinn made himself visible at all three events, highlighting job creation and the importance of infrastructure — two central points in his underdog campaign against State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington).
The governor trails Brady by in nearly every poll, but his biggest deficit can be found in downstate Illinois, where he trails his Republican challenger by 20 percent.
Illinois is a big state — a fact that is not lost among candidates vying for support in a statewide race. Quinn has a distinct advantage over Brady in that he can make the five-hour trip to St. Clair County to announce a job-creating infrastructure project — without shelling out campaign money for travel and other expenses.
“All incumbents take advantage of their office,” said David Yepsen of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “When you’re trailing you gotta go everywhere, and when Pat Quinn does this, it maximizes the use of his office and the media.”
The question of regional support has hung over Quinn since the February primary when Democrats nominated six Chicago politicians to its statewide ticket. Quinn hoped to narrow that gap by selecting Sheila Simon, a Carbondale native and daughter of late-U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, as his running mate last Spring.
The most recent poll numbers bring a definitively negative answer to Quinn’s prospects of closing the regional gap by November. His lack of popularity has led some Democrats in the region to distance themselves from Quinn. Decatur State Rep. Robert Flider, for example, stressed his opposition to Quinn’s proposed income tax increase after his opponent, Republican Adam Brown, criticized the proposal.
“The fact that the Democratic governor polls unpopularly downstate is a weapon Republicans are using to attack all downstate Democrats,” Flider said. “It’s very important for my support to cross party lines and I definitely think a number of conservative voters support my views on the tax increase.”
Yepsen said it is going to be “a tough year for Democrats,” especially downstate. He says Quinn’s visits indicate the Democrat’s commitment to that region.
“He could either write off the area or redouble his efforts here,” Yepsen said. “And it looks like he is doubling down.”
If Quinn’s “campaign through governance” is effective, it could spell trouble for Brady.
“Brady needs a good margin,” Yepsen said. “In traditional Illinois elections, the Republican needs to do well downstate and in the suburbs.”
Bill McMorris, Illinois Statehouse News