They are touring Illinois, hiring staff and, of course, tweeting madly.
Yet any aspiring candidate in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary must still clear a crucial bar — wooing the African-American vote.
Black voters are the most significant and loyal segment of the Democratic Party. A victorious nominee must do more than make the case against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. That person must also energize the black vote.
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Rauner is bedeviled by low approval ratings. He can’t get a budget passed. His battle with Illinois Democrats has crippled funding for social service agencies, community organizations and schools, the lifelines in many African-American communities.
Black voters know that. They also know the words of, all people, President Donald J. Trump. He and Rauner have rightly argued the Democratic Party takes them for granted.
“You live in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said last year at a presidential campaign rally.
And he declared, “The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community.”
Black voters may reject the messenger, but the message resonates. They are tired of giving up their votes, for too little in return.
In the 2018 contest, they should ask the Democratic hopefuls: What have you done for me? What will you do for me?
Will you finally, after years of failed Democratic Party policies, bring “for real” jobs and economic development to left-out communities from Chicago to Cairo? Can you deliver innovative and effective ways to quell insurgent urban violence? Will you really fix the state’s inequitable funding formula that is starving our schools?
African Americans should be asking for deliverables and asking now.
The conventional wisdom-ites are touting Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker as leading primary contenders. That’s not because they possess deep and abiding ties to black voters, but because they are super rich. The prognosticators argue that in a matchup with Rauner, money is everything.
Kennedy, an announced candidate, is the wealthy real estate developer and heir to the Kennedy family dynasty. Pritzker is the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel dynasty.
They are also elite, middle-aged white men with no natural base among African Americans.
A second tier of contestants may be looking to enhance their stature for down the road, or on a wing and a hope of an upset. Northwest Side Ald. Ameya Pawar is running what he calls a “New Deal” campaign to “restore progressive values in 2018.” He is little known outside his 47thWard, where 2.7 percent of the population is black.
State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston is another relative unknown to the state’s African-American voters.
Black politicians in the mix include State Sen. Kwame Raoul of Hyde Park, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of south suburban Matteson and Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers.
Could one of them build a movement among black voters? Yes.
Could one of them take advantage of a split among white voters, and consolidate the minority vote to emerge from the fray? Sure.
Yet the questions will remain the same. What has the Democratic Party done for me? What will you do for me?
If one of them delivers real answers, it’s all over for Rauner.