Gov. Pritzker’s camp grapples with Dem Party Chair Rep. Kelly: Coordinated campaign an issue

“I think we can be a lot further along. We need more cooperation,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the Sun-Times. “We’re moving in the right direction but too slowly.”

SHARE Gov. Pritzker’s camp grapples with Dem Party Chair Rep. Kelly: Coordinated campaign an issue
Ongoing, delicate talks about creating a coordinated campaign started Jan. 17, when Gov. Pritzker’s political team called other top Democrats to a meeting.

Ongoing, delicate talks about creating a coordinated campaign started Jan. 17, when Gov. Pritzker’s political team called other top Democrats to a meeting.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Delicate discussions among top Democrats in Illinois have been taking place since a Jan. 17 meeting about the control and structure of a coordinated campaign for the 2022 ticket.

Accounts of what happened at that meeting vary regarding the views of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s political team on the role of Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., on the coordinated campaign.

The Chicago Sun-Times has learned talks regarding a coordinated campaign started on Jan. 17, when three Democrats up for re-election along with Pritzker — Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Comptroller Susana Mendoza — were called to a meeting with Pritzker’s top team at Pritzker’s Loop campaign headquarters.

Pritzker’s lieutenants at the Jan. 17 meeting were Chief of Staff Anne Caprara; Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell; Ex-Deputy Governor Dan Hynes and Pritzker campaign manager Mike Ollen.

“I think we can be a lot further along. We need more cooperation,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday. “We’re moving in the right direction but too slowly.”

What’s at issue? “There are a lot of personalities tied up in this. We got to put them aside for the duration of the campaign. We got to focus on November and focus on victory and do it together,” Durbin said.

Is this about control? “I don’t know if that is the reason. It could be something else. But whatever it is, it’s unacceptable,” Durbin said.

The talks are ongoing as GOP billionaire Ken Griffin, intent on defeating billionaire Gov. Pritzker, looms as a major factor for the entire Democratic ticket.

The seeds of this imbroglio were planted on March 2, 2021, when members of the DPI state central committee elected Kelly party chair.

Kelly, backed by Durbin, beat Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), supported by Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., 51.7% to 48.3%.

Kelly is filling the unexpired term of the now-indicted Mike Madigan, first elected DPI chair in 1998.

She will run for a full term as chair this summer, after the June 28 Illinois primary, when an election for DPI state central committee members will be held.

Team Pritzker will have, if they want, another run at the DPI chairmanship.

The Pritzker team — in 2021 and now — continues to have fundamental reservations about the role Kelly can play because, as a federally elected official, she is subject to strict fundraising rules and contribution caps that restrict her ability when it comes to raising and spending funds for non-federal candidates.

Kelly’s allies said they have devised — using Federal Election Commission legal guidance they requested — various ways for Kelly to function as state chair while avoiding legal problems. They also say this is about Pritzker’s camp wanting to relitigate the DPI contest they lost.

No one from the DPI was at the Jan. 17 meeting.

No one from the Durbin organization was there. Durbin organized the coordinated campaigns during most of the Madigan era because Madigan mainly cared about state House races.

Frerichs told the Sun-Times he considered it “an early principals meeting.”

The meeting day — on the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday — is noteworthy because that’s when the Griffin-backed GOP governor candidate, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, made his run official. A few weeks later Griffin donated $20 million to Irvin’s war chest.

The expectation among all the players is that Pritzker will pour millions of his own dollars into the coordinated campaign to benefit the entire Democratic ticket.

For the record — Pritzker does not have to do this.

This is telling: Pritzker — who put $90 million of his cash into his political fund on Jan. 14 — so far has directed zero campaign donations to the DPI while giving to other Illinois Democratic groups.

Last December, Pritzker’s campaign contributed $2 million to the state Senate Democrat political fund and $1 million to the state House Democratic election operation.

A deal may come together soon.

Duckworth told the Sun-Times, “We’re all working closely together in good faith to ensure that Illinois Democrats are able to run a successful and impactful coordinated campaign. We’ve made tremendous progress and I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to resolve the legal concerns I share with others in the days ahead.”

Natalie Edelstein, the Pritzker campaign spokesman, said, “The governor has always supported Democrats up and down the ticket in Illinois and he looks forward to continuing that effort as we work to expand our majorities at the local, state, and federal level.”

DPI spokesman Jake Lewis said Kelly is “laser focused on building a party that will elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2022 and beyond. Part of that work is creating a coordinated campaign to efficiently and effectively support all Democratic nominees. The DPI has been moving the planning process forward around coordinated campaign strategy and structure with a variety of stakeholders and is pleased at the progress being made.”

Raoul told the Sun-Times a collaboration is coming together. “It’s just trying to make sure that we do everything in accordance with the law and make sure that we are all speaking to each other.”

Mendoza’s campaign said in a statement their team is “committed to working with” Pritzker, Kelly, “and Democrats in every corner of the state on behalf of the whole ticket.”

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