For the first time in recent years, Republicans will not challenge Democrats by running for Cook County’s top elected offices in November.
But just because the GOP is not fielding candidates for county president, assessor, treasurer and clerk, doesn’t mean the party faithful have cause for concern, some local Republicans say.
In fact, it’s all part of their plan to give Bruce Rauner, the GOP candidate for governor, an edge in a key battleground.
The hope is that entrenched Democrats controlling the county’s top offices won’t be motivated to get out the vote because they do not have opponents, Republican sources with knowledge of the strategy said. If the ploy works, it could suppress the Democratic vote, they believe.
“If you’re practical about it, you look to four years ago when Roger Keats was running against [current county board President] Toni Preckwinkle,” said Jim Parrilli, a Republican precinct committeeman and candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. “She went out and got every union guy out there and they ended up increasing the vote total in Cook County and that ended up helping [Democratic Gov.] Pat Quinn.”
Political operatives have used the ploy in the past, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, who called it a strategy of “letting sleeping dogs lie.”
“This is a game of margins. The race is close and Rauner needs to cut into Quinn margins in Chicago and Cook County,” Yepsen said. “I suppose if they are leaving certain people alone, it might be by design. There is no purpose in stirring up donors.”
But he cautioned that it also might also be an attempt by Republicans to cover up “internal problems and incompetence” by rebranding their lack of countywide candidates an overt strategy.
A Republican has not held a marquee county office since the 1990s, when Jack O’Malley was state’s attorney. During the recent primary, no one stepped forward to run for top office, though the party fielded candidates for county commissioner and the Municipal Water Reclamation District.
Still, the party had an opportunity to put its preferred candidates on the ballot if they gathered at least 2,710 petition signatures by June 2. And a group of committeemen slated three candidates for the ballot: Tondalaya Maria Nelson, for clerk; Antonio Mannings, for treasurer; and Robert Foss, for assessor.
But the deadline passed last week and the required petitions were not submitted, according to the County Clerk’s office.
None of the candidates could be reached and the Rauner campaign declined to comment.
Scott Cisek, the executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, said Republicans are misguided if they think “that if things are sleepy in Cook County the Democrats won’t turn out their vote.”
He said Democrats are angered by Rauner’s influence over Republican’s during the recently adjourned legislative session. Several major bills, including a county employee pension reform measure pushed by Preckwinkle, were held up, in part, by Republican obstructionism.
“The Cook County Democratic Party and the county board president are going to do anything in their power to make sure Bruce Rauner is not the next governor of Illinois,” Cisek said.
Meanwhile, county Republicans have struggled to recruit viable candidates, Parrilli said. And there’s been bitter infighting amongst the rank-and-file – especially between Republicans in city and suburbs, he said. Recently, Chairman Aaron Del Mar, who has Rauner’s backing, faced a failed leadership challenge by Chicago committeeman Chris Cleveland
Rauner’s election could improve morale, attract quality candidates and bring in more money from energized donors, Parrilli said.
But not everyone likes the current strategy.
Cleveland trashed the suggestion that the county Republicans should throw in the towel.
“Democrats have infiltrated the Republican Party, and they’ve urged us to lay down and keep quiet. This is offensive beyond belief,” Cleveland said. “Any Republican who thinks we shouldn’t put Republicans on the ballot is either working for the Democrats, or has a basic misunderstanding of how electoral politics work.”
Parrilli said some Republicans do work with Democrats to “get things done,” but added that internal battles were counterproductive because a win by Rauner could reinvigorate the party.
“We actually endorsed a candidate this time around, and that candidate is Bruce Rauner,” Parrilli said. “Bruce Rauner is where everybody should be focused right now.”