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Far out! Illinois Dems think they’ve dropped in on the big one

Former President Barack Obama has been making appearances around the country to boost Democratic candidates, and he will be the featured speaker at a rally Sunday in Chicago at the UIC Pavilion. Here, he orders lunch in Miami with Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (right) and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (left) on Friday. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

No longer content with electing a “blue wave” of Democrats on Tuesday, Illinois Democrats are starting to talk about a “bluenami.”

That was the prediction Friday of Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza as she joined governor candidate J.B. Pritzker and the rest of the Democrats’ statewide ticket in a show of unity.

She offered only one caveat.

“On Tuesday we’re going to see a big beautiful wave crest in Illinois. It’s going to be a blue one, and if you work hard enough, it’s going to be a bluenami. You heard it here first,” gushed Mendoza, who apparently is so confident that she is perched safely atop the wave that she unwisely made a campaign video announcing her run for mayor — a video that leaked out, prematurely, later Friday.


It is a measure of the troubles that Illinois Republicans face this year that Mendoza was probably correct in her calculation that it will take a lot more than that to wipe out her re-election chances.

After months of talk about a big Democratic year here in reaction to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump and Gov. Bruce Rauner, will there indeed be a wave of Democratic successes across Illinois next week?

“I don’t see any evidence that it’s NOT going to be a blue wave,” answered one of the state’s top Republican strategists. “Clearly, the momentum is there. They’re doing all the right things.”

If that’s how the Republicans are talking, and it is, you can imagine what the Democrats are saying.

“The state is going from a regular blue to a deep blue like you see out on Miami Beach,” predicted veteran Democratic operative Victor Reyes on this week’s installment of The Smoke Filled Room, a podcast produced with his partner in politics, Mike Noonan.

In an interview, Reyes predicted a sweep of the statewide offices for Democrats plus gains in both the Illinois House and Senate. Others concur.

Reyes stopped short of predicting Democratic wins in hotly-contested congressional races because he doesn’t follow that as closely. But he said strong campaigns by Democratic state legislative candidates in DuPage County bode well for Sean Casten, the party’s nominee to unseat U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam.

It’s clear, though, that Democrats won’t consider the night a complete success without winning at least two of the four congressional seats for which they are making an unprecedented push.

At Friday’s press conference, Pritzker said he also expects Democratic candidates to win county races throughout the state as well.

“That’s what the blue wave has really been about,” said Pritzker, whose campaign has contributed more than $27 million to Democratic candidates and organizations across Illinois and provided other support to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Doug House, president of the state Democratic County Chairman’s Association, said the unified effort has allowed Democrats to compete in places where they haven’t even fielded candidates for decades.

That brings us back to Mendoza’s caveat: “… if you work hard enough.”

For Democrats to make their rosy predictions come true, they need to finish getting out the vote, which is always more difficult for them in a non-presidential year.

That’s why former President Barack Obama will headline a Democratic rally here Sunday to fill in some of the enthusiasm gap that results from millions of dollars being spent on negative television advertising intended to dissuade voters from coming out at all.

Pritzker said his only worry is about “complacency” from voters taking the election for granted.

The stated topic of the Democrats’ appearance Friday was to highlight their commitment to health care, but the subliminal message was that they’re unified while Republicans are not.

A Republican rally with Trump last week in southern Illinois turned into an embarrassment with Rauner left off the stage. Harold skipped the event. The entire state GOP ticket is expected to try it again Sunday with its own joint appearance in Orland Park.

Then again, the Democrats won’t be making any joint appearances either with the unpopular Madigan, who remains a drag on the ticket even in victory.

Even before he announced his candidacy, Pritzker said he would use the campaign as an opportunity to rebuild the Democratic Party across the state, much as Rauner did for Republicans in his 2014 election.

If there really is a bluenami, the question will be how much of what Rauner built will be left standing.