Will Bill or won’t Bill run for governor

Bill Daley called the other day. We estimated that it had been about three or four years since we had last spoken to each other, which is par for the course.

Going back to at least 2001, Daley, the brother and son of former Chicago mayors, has mulled a bid for governor. The last time was in 2009, when he publicly thought about challenging Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary. And now, he’s talking about it again.

Before I returned Daley’s call, I wanted to check around and see what might be different this time.

I was told that there are two major differences between now and before. First of all, Rich Daley is no longer mayor. Hizzoner simply didn’t want his brother running statewide. A gubernatorial bid could shine too much of a spotlight on the mayor and there was real fear that a statewide run could upset the mayor’s delicately balanced coalition – meaning black voters. Bill Daley is now free to do whatever he wants.

The other consideration also has to do with family. Daley had gone through a divorce in 2001. Now, though, he has a supportive, solid spouse who will back him all the way.

Daley confirmed both of those points when we finally connected. But he hasn’t been raising money, he hasn’t been traveling the state and he flatly denied a newspaper report that he had commissioned a poll.

Instead, he’s been reaching out to old friends, including former President Bill Clinton, who encouraged a run. At 64, this could be his last opportunity to run a strenuous statewide campaign, and Daley said if he does run it’ll only be for a term or maybe two, just to straighten things out and move along.

My big question was what he could bring to the table that Dan Hynes couldn’t in 2010, when he narrowly lost to Quinn in the Democratic primary. Like Hynes, Daley is a white, Irish, South Side Chicagoan. What votes does he get that Hynes could not? While he wouldn’t come right out and say it (most of the conversation was off the record), I think he believes that Hynes made some late mistakes and that enough voters are ready to move beyond Gov. Quinn that he has a legit shot.

The power of a sitting governor should never be underestimated in a primary. Even in the “new era” of reform, governors have jobs, contracts and other favors they can hand out to key constituencies. Quinn doled out million-dollar grants like they were candy in 2010.

Besides that, Quinn himself is one of the best closers I’ve ever seen. After leading for months, Quinn began slipping against Hynes and by the last weekend even some of the governor’s top aides were thinking about finding new jobs after primary day. He did it again in the fall, when most people had written him off against Bill Brady.

Anyway, back to Daley. Will he do it? Well, he sounds more like a candidate than he ever has, but until he starts raising money and doing a bit of traveling then we shouldn’t take him all that seriously.

Can he beat Quinn? In 2010, enough people were still willing to give the relatively new “accidental governor” a chance that he could win by small margins in both the primary and the general. This time around, Quinn will have had almost six years under his belt, and if things don’t turn around soon, he’s not going to get the same benefit of the doubt.

Another Daley consideration has to be whether Attorney General Lisa Madigan decides to run. After years of dismissing the prospect, Madigan seemed almost eager to take on the challenge on election night last November, when we spoke. She flatly denied any interest in a state Supreme Court bid, saying such a job would be too boring. She seemed steamed at Chicago reporters, who’d asked her whether she could be a governor and raise her young children. And she pointed to her huge campaign war chest, which currently contains $3.6 million. That same Public Policy Polling poll had Madigan leading Quinn, 64-20.

The Daley people say they aren’t factoring Madigan into the equation just yet. If she runs, she runs. But right now they aren’t worrying too much about it. We’ll see.

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

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