Pritzker’s ‘Blue Wave’ could be biggest such effort Illinois has ever seen

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Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker

For weeks now, some Democrats have been wondering if their party intends to run a “coordinated campaign” this year and have asked what it might look like. A coordinated campaign means all the party’s candidates are working together under one umbrella group.

The party’s standard-bearer J.B. Pritzker has kicked off “Blue Wave Illinois” and will soon make a $5 million contribution. Democratic sources say much more cash is expected to follow.

The new group won’t be a separate, stand-alone entity, but will instead be an internal branch of Pritzker’s campaign apparatus.

The House and Senate Democrats will each receive a million dollars. Sen. Kwame Raoul’s attorney general campaign will get about $50,000 (around the maximum he can legally receive) and the other statewide nominees will eventually receive money as well.


To stay within campaign finance contribution limit laws, a million bucks will be transferred to the Rock Island County Democratic Party, which is run by Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association Chairman Doug House. Chairman House appears to be playing a key role in this new “Blue Wave” organization. House personally endorsed Pritzker ahead of his statewide group’s endorsement session.

Pritzker refused to take any campaign contributions during the primary except from himself, but that will also change. Pritzker’s campaign committee will raise the money to fund its “Blue Wave” operation from small individual donors and large contributions from others, including his wealthy friends and family. I’m hearing $30 million may be the target number.

Pritzker will retain responsibility for funding his own race, I’m told. His initial $5 million contribution can be seen as seed money to get the group going (and the million each to House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton could help soothe any possible paranoia on their part). And since contributions to Pritzker’s big-spending campaign will have no legal caps on them, Pritzker will be able to vacuum up every possible dime that contributors can afford to give. He has told others that he doesn’t want to compete with other Illinois candidates’ fund-raising, so he will travel to other states to raise cash.

Any Statehouse-connected dollars will bring the sort of criticism that the self-funder was able to avoid until now, so we’ll see how this works out. And, of course, giving money to Madigan’s operation has already prompted Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign to claim that the two men are in cahoots.

But this move also means Democrats will have a centralized funding source with no direct ties to Speaker Madigan. The benefit can work both ways. Some liberal big-money folks just don’t like Madigan, and even more candidates are skittish (to say the least) about taking money from the House Speaker. It also seems clear that Pritzker wants his own, independent organization outside of Madigan’s Democratic Party of Illinois – which has been accused in the past of redirecting coordinated campaign money toward Madigan’s favored House candidates.

The Pritzker cash will be used to fund campaigns “up and down the ticket,” from statewide campaigns, to legislative races to county races. The money will also be used for training in messaging and the use of digital technology. The Pritzker campaign wants to concentrate on the most winnable races, but they also say they don’t want to leave any stone unturned.

Local political organizations, including township and ward organizations in Chicago and county party organizations throughout the state, will also likely receive contributions in the future. Chairman House will apparently play the lead role in working with those organizations in an effort to build up a party that is sorely lacking at the local level outside Cook County.

Pritzker won kudos during the primary for opening 18 campaign offices and hiring about 100 field staffers, although there was some internal party criticism for the way at least some of those offices were run. It reminded some influential folks of the DCCC – helicoptered-in staffers who didn’t know the lay of the land.

Whatever the case, the Pritzker campaign plans to continue building out those local field offices and will use them to help Pritzker and other regional and statewide candidates.

A true coordinated campaign also involves congressional candidates. At this point, I’m told, Pritzker’s “Blue Wave” group figures its field work will benefit all candidates at all levels.

One of Pritzker’s slogans has been “think big,” and this definitely has the potential to be the biggest effort of its kind that this state has ever seen.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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