The Washington Post

How Pat Quinn is surviving against the odds in Illinois

He's one of the most unpopular governors in America. His state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. And he's long been ripe for a primary challenge.

His name is Pat Quinn, and as of Tuesday afternoon, he had a clear path to the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D). (Seth Perlman/AP)

But how?

Conversations with knowledgeable strategists and a review of recent events suggest Quinn's outlook is part luck and part skill.

Gone from the picture is Bill Daley, who abruptly ended his primary challenge against Quinn Tuesday. The former White House chief of staff and brother and son of two former Chicago mayors, Daley said that he "just decided this is not [the] life for me for the next five to nine years."

His decision cleared the primary slate for Quinn, barring a new entrant who would face a fairly quick turnaround with a December filing deadline and a March primary looming.

"I take Bill at his word that his heart wasn't in it," said unaligned Democratic strategist Eric Adelstein, of Daley's decision. "So I think to some extent there is no question Quinn has some luck on his side."

But, Adelstein added, "It's fair to say Quinn started putting Humpty Dumpty back together again."

Quinn's allies note that he recently secured the backing of party leaders in influential Cook County, and has been building inroads with Democrats downstate. And his campaign didn't shy away from playing offense against Daley, seeking to paint him as a wealthy out of touch banker.

Count it all in the skill category.

Over in the luck category, Quinn got some great news in July when Attorney General Lisa Madigan, one of the state's top up-and-coming Democrats, passed on a run.

The question for Quinn now is whether someone new will step up to challenge him. But there are no obvious possibilities, noted Adelstein. "I haven't heard any real ones," he said.

If Quinn ends up coasting to the general election, he can stockpile his resources for what promises to be a tough general election campaign. But Republicans relish the prospect of running against Quinn and his baggage from big-time fiscal problems in the state driven by unfunded pension obligations.

The fact that Daley had nothing but bad things to say about Quinn on his way out of the race and isn't ruling out backing a Republican doesn't make things any easier for Quinn.

Four candidates are fighting for the Republican nomination: State. Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee's surprise decision not to run for a second term means the title of most vulnerable Democratic governor running in 2014 is completely in Quinn's hands. Indeed, there remain some obstacles standing between Quinn and victory come November 2014.

But given Quinn's ability to stay afloat so far, and the heavy Democratic tilt of his state, it's worth keeping an eye on his candidacy the rest of the way.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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