WASHINGTON — Illinois is in play.
The presidential contenders are finally focusing on the Land of Lincoln, as the chaotic primary season has yet to mint presumptive nominees.
Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Bernie Sanders will hit the Chicago area on Friday. Hillary Clinton stumped in Vernon Hills on Thursday night, and she’ll be in Springfield on Monday, election eve.
On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich worked the northern suburbs while Bill Clinton rallied voters for Hillary in Evanston and the West Side and Heidi Cruz was downtown. The former president returns on Friday night for a Peoria rally.
Sen. Marco Rubio is tethered to Florida — if he can’t win in his home state, he’s finished.
Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri vote on Tuesday. If Trump wins Ohio and Florida, he locks up the nomination. If Clinton accumulates the lion’s share of delegates on Tuesday — even if Sanders wins the popular vote — she will have an insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders.
There is a wrinkle.
Even though a host of candidates have suspended their campaigns, their names are still on the Illinois ballot, and on the GOP side, their delegates can still be elected from each of the 18 congressional districts in the state.
This wrinkle has less impact for Democrats because a candidate needs to hit a threshold of 15 percent of the vote in a district — very unlikely for a Martin O’Malley delegate.
Kasich needs to win his state and do well in Illinois to continue.
“I think that the campaign believes that after Ohio, Illinois is their best shot on Tuesday,” Nancy Kimmee, a senior campaign adviser who is on the ballot as a Kasich delegate, told me.
“Right now, it’s all about delegates,” Cruz’s communications director Alice Stewart told me.
Cruz has two Friday stops. He’ll be in Rolling Meadows to keynote the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, an annual event hosted by the GOP organizations of Schaumburg, Barrington, Elk Grove, Hanover, Maine, Northfield, Palatine and Wheeling Townships.
Before that, Cruz will headline a major high-dollar fundraiser — closed to the press — for the Illinois Republican Party, a now annual event created by Gov. Bruce Rauner. All the GOP White House hopefuls were invited.
“Because there are contested races on both sides of the aisle for the 2016 presidential race and many local elections, we expect a record turnout in this year’s primary,” said Sarah Brune, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
“. . . A few hotly contested races could bring out new voters for state level candidates — voters that have not yet been polled or tallied,” she said.
In 2008, when Illinois’ favorite son President Barack Obama made his first White House bid, 1.6 million took Democratic ballots in Illinois. In 2012, that number decreased to about 670,000. During the last two presidential primaries, GOP votes increased from 739,000 to 873,000, according to a new study by the group.
The anti-Trump drive is up and running — but hammering the billionaire reality show star now may be too late. The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that two major anti-Trump super PACS — the American Future Fund and Our Principles are ratcheting up their Illinois spending — pouring an additional $2 million into ads to run in Illinois markets through Tuesday.
The spots hit Trump over his alleged scams connected to his Trump University.
Trump will headline a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave., a venue that can hold about 9,000. Concern is growing over the use of force at Trump events to eject protesters and manhandle reporters.
In a statement issued Thursday, the White House Correspondents Association said, “Broadly speaking, the WHCA unequivocally condemns any act of violence or intimidation against any journalist covering the 2016 campaign, whether perpetrated by a candidate’s supporters, staff or security officers. We expect that all contenders for the nation’s highest office agree that this would be unacceptable.”
Sanders’ rally is Friday night at Argo Community High School, 7329 63rd St., Summit, and it comes as his campaign launched three new ads on Thursday taking aim at Mayor Rahm Emanuel as much as Clinton.
To some degree, locally, Sanders’ Illinois drive mixes it up with some unfinished business between Emanuel — a Clinton supporter muzzled because of the police shooting scandals, fights with the Chicago Teachers Union and other controversies — and Cook County Board Member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who ran against Emanuel last year and lost.
Sanders endorsed Garcia in his mayoral bid. Garcia went on to become a major national surrogate for Sanders, helping especially with the Latino vote.
As the Sanders campaign put it, “The ads call for major political changes in Chicago.”
One of the spots features Garcia; another Troy LaRaviere, a Chicago Public Schools principal.
LaRaviere in his ad says, “In Chicago, we have endured a corrupt political system. And the chief politician standing in the way of us getting good schools is our mayor. If you have a presidential candidate that supports someone like our mayor, you have a candidate who is not willing to take on the establishment.”
Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., represents south suburban Summit in Congress and is the rare uncommitted superdelegate. Superdelegates are Democratic honchos who automatically get to vote on a nominee.
Clinton has a lock on superdelegates, and Sanders is stepping up a push to pry them away her.
Lipinski said he is aware of the controversy of the role of superdelegates and the complaints about them this year.
“I’ll give it to my constitutients to decide. Whoever wins the primary in my district between Hillary and Bernie, that’s who will get my superdelegate vote.”