It was halftime at the Super Bowl, but the real action in Chicago was not betwen the Saints and the Colts, nor was it watching septuagenarians formerly known as The Who.
It was during the halftime presentation when Scott Lee Cohen, who had won the Democratic nomination for lt. governor of Illinois just five days before — and who in the interim was enmeshed in a growing scandal stemming from his relationship with a prostitute ex-girlfriend — announced at the Hop Haus Tavern on Chicago's Far North Side that he would withdraw his candidacy. "For the good of the people," Cohen said, "I will resign." More Cohen, as per the Chicago Tribune:
There is uncertainty that if I continue to run that the Democrats will win in November. Many people came out to support me when I announced. The Democratic Party didn't, but many people did. This is the hardest thing that I've ever had to do in my life. ... It's my hope, and I pray with all my heart, that I didn't hurt the people that I love so much.
The announcement came under intense pressure from a who's-who of Illinois Democrats, including Gov. Pat Quinn and the party's Senate nominee, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, as well as senior Sen. Dick Durbin.
Cohen was a politically unknown pawnbroker who pumped $2 million of his own money into the race and won an upset victory on Feb. 2 against a more experienced primary field. Shortly after his victory, allegations came out that he had battered his ex-girlfriend, a prostitute ("I thought she was a massage therapist," an excuse that may become political lore), and that while he was spending all that money, his ex-wife was suing him for $54,000 in back-due child support.
Quinn, who already had the task of trying to unite his party in the wake of his bitter and narrow primary victory over state Comptroller Dan Hynes, said that by resigning Cohen "made the right decision for the Democratic Party and the people of Illinois."
The decision to replace Cohen on the ticket will be made by the party's state central committee, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, the Illinois state Democratic chair, which is scheduled to meet on March 17. The meeting could come sooner.
Chicago state Rep. Art Turner, who was backed by Madigan, finished second in the primary to Cohen. But with everyone on the Democratic ticket currently hailing from Chicago, the party may want to look downstate to fill Cohen's spot.
The Republican Party of course is anxious to benefit from the Democrats' mess. But they won't be able to do anything until they have a gubernatorial nominee of their own. Their primary winner has yet to be declared, as Bill Brady, a downstate conservative, holds a 406-vote lead over fellow state Sen. Kirk Dillard in a six-candidate field. It could be weeks before the Republican nominee is certified.
The Dem brouhaha brought to mind a similar situation that faced Republicans in 2004, when their Senate nominee, Jack Ryan, was forced to quit the ticket amid revelations disclosed in his divorce proceedings that he had brought his then wife to sex clubs for the purpose of having sex together in public.
The GOP made matters worse by turning to a Maryland resident and perennial unsuccessful candidate, Alan Keyes, to take Ryan's place.
He got clobbered in November by a state senator named Barack Obama.