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Madigan on Durbin bid for governor: ‘We talked about it’

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

PHILADELPHIA — It’s easy to see why Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman Mike Madigan pushed Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to run for governor in 2018 at the Monday Illinois delegate convention breakfast.

“Senator Durbin and I talked about it a few months ago. … We talked about it,” Madigan said at the Illinois delegate breakfast.

“He has an exemplary record of public service,” Madigan added. “Sen. Durbin would be uniquely qualified.”

Madigan has no Democrat as credentialed and well positioned as Durbin on deck to run against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It’s that simple.

Durbin was born in East St. Louis, lives in Springfield, has a place in Chicago and travels Illinois incessantly. Durbin is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and until he locks in that post for another term after the November election, it’s hard to figure his next move.

Of course Madigan is talking Durbin up. No one else has his profile. Durbin has a national fundraising base and is constantly in every Illinois media market as well as national shows. Durbin was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after 14 years in the House.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn, who lost to Rauner in 2014, may seek a rematch, surfacing in recent months to lead a referendum drive to limit a mayor to two terms and create a new office, an elected city watchdog. Attorney General Lisa Madigan mulled a 2014 governor bid but did not run when it was clear her father, Speaker Madigan, was not ready to retire.

Chris Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, is a former University of Illinois board chairman who used to run the Merchandise Mart. Kennedy is exploring a run for governor and is expected to address the Illinois delegation at its convention breakfast this week.

Kennedy has mulled running for various offices before and will have to make a firm sign of interest to be taken seriously.

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One of the featured speakers at the Illinois breakfast Monday was Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

He was one of several speakers who said Illinois is in dire need of a Democratic governor.

“I’m a Democratic governor. You need one of those,” Malloy said.

Cook County Record of Deeds Karen Yarbrough took up on that cue while staring directly at Durbin: “We need a Democratic governor,” she said.

Durbin has also recently been promoted by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, as a possible new Democratic National Committee Chair, even before the Wikileaks release of hacked DNC emails over the weekend showed DNC staffers plotting against Sanders. That forced DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, to say Sunday she will quit after the convention.

Durbin on Monday did not slam the door and nail it shut while talking to reporters at the Marriott about any option concerning his future. Madigan’s revelation about their discussion about the governor’s race put on the table the question of Durbin running, though it is far from certain Durbin’s interested in Springfield.

Durbin has some priorities and they go in this sequence. He wants to first win re-election as whip.

About a week after the November election, senators vote for their leaders, including whip. Last March, Reid announced he would not seek another term. Reid anointed Sen. Chuck Schumer D-NY as his heir. Things got a bit messy for a bit when Durbin had to scramble to make sure he locked in the support from his fellow senators to retain his No. 2 spot.

Looks like Durbin is in good shape in his whip race. But it’s never a good idea to run for more than one office at a time.

One Democrat who Illinois delegates will have to wait to have breakfast with is Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, whose popularity is dipping in hometown Chicago, is skipping the first two days of the convention, avoiding possible nasty confrontations at the Illinois delegation breakfast, packed with Emanuel critics.

It would otherwise seem an easy call for Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, and a top staffer for former President Bill Clinton, to attend the convention when Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination for president on Thursday.

Emanuel is hosting a Chicago Blues late-night bash on Wednesday. A City Hall spokesman said he will attend the convention on Wednesday and Thursday.