Illinois Governor Declares Victory, Opponent Has Yet To Concede

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has declared victory in Tuesday's primary gubernatorial election. The race for governor has been a spirited one, with both candidates vying for the African American vote. Host Michel Martin takes a look at the politics involved with with Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Mary Mitchell, and NPR Chicago-based correspondent Cheryl Corley.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Don't Ask Don't Tell - the nation's top military leader says it's time to let it go. We're going to try to find out what the rank and file has to say. That's in just a few minutes.

But first, the voting is over in yesterday's Illinois primary but the counting, well, that might take a while. Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn leads his opponent, Dan Hynes, by a few thousand votes in the race for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.

The election for the Republican gubernatorial nominee is also very close. State Senator Bill Brady holds a slim lead over fellow State Senator Kirk Dillard. At least, though, there's clarity in the race to fill President Obama's old Senate seat. Republican Congressman Mark Kirk is now officially the GOP nominee. He'll run against a former banker, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who won the nomination outright.

To help us make sense of the results, we've invited NPR reporter Cheryl Corley and columnist Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun Times. They're both joining us now out of Chicago to help us sort this all out. Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.

CHERYL CORLEY: You're welcome.

Ms. MARY MITCHELL (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Thank you.

MARTIN: Cheryl, can we assume a recount then?

CORLEY: Well...

MARTIN: On both sides?

CORLEY: You know, I think it's pretty much a given, although the folks who are in the lead right now are saying it shouldn't happen. It's so close in both of those races. Governor Quinn, of course, last night or early this morning, I should say, came out and said, you know, it's over, the primary is done. But there's about - at last count about 7,000 votes between him and his challenger.

MARTIN: And he didn't concede. Dan Hynes did not concede.

CORLEY: Dan Hynes did not concede. He said, you know, see you tomorrow.

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, nor should he. It's just that close. It was a hard fought campaign. He, you know, you got to be clear here - did he win? And if he did not win, if Governor Quinn did not win, if there's some mistakes here, something happened, you know, he has a right to challenge that. It's just too close to just let it go. I can't see him doing it.

MARTIN: So just to clarify, Cheryl, what's the - what happens now since neither - they both say I'm the man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Well, it's not automatic. A recount in Illinois is not an automatic thing. Dan Hynes would have to go to court, really, and ask for a recount to happen. He would also have to pick up all the costs for a recount, if that was actually going to go forward. So it's, you know, you really have to think that you have a good chance of winning for something like this to go forward.

MARTIN: And Mary mentioned that this was a hard-fought race. I just want to explain a little bit about just how hard-fought it was. Mary, you've written about this - the African-American - both Democratic candidates made a strong push for the African-American vote in any number of ways. Dan Hynes did an ad that even kind of raised up comments made years ago by the late venerated former mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, criticizing his opponent, the current governor, Pat Quinn. Let me just play a little bit of that.

(Soundbite of ad)

Mr. HAROLD WASHINGTON (Former Mayor, Chicago): I was nuts to do it. I must have been blind or staggering. I would never appoint Pat Quinn to do anything. Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks this government is nothing but a large easel by which he can do his PR work. He was dismissed, should have been dismissed. My only regret is that we hired him and kept him too long. That was perhaps my greatest mistake in government in terms of appointment.

Unidentified Man #2: Now Quinn is ruining our state's finances. Illinois can do better.

MARTIN: So, Cheryl? Help us.

CORLEY: I was just going to say, Lord, when that commercial hit, that caused all sorts of reaction here in Illinois.

MARTIN: What reaction?

CORLEY: It was a furor. It was...

Ms. MITCHELL: It did two things. One, it gave Dan Hynes the momentum.

CORLEY: Yes, absolutely.

Ms. MITCHELL: Because people were actually talking about it. But I also think that with that momentum there came a backlash, because I think if he had stuck with an ad in which he criticized the sitting governor for an early release program that was botched, he may have gotten more traction out of that. The backlash here was that both candidates were fighting for the black vote. And if you unintentionally offend the very people that you are trying to get to come out for you, you're in trouble and I think that's exactly what Dan Hynes did and why he's in this position.

MARTIN: I want to ask Cheryl. Let me ask, what do you think the effect of the ad was? Did it get more people out or did it cause - sometimes negative ads have the effect of making people so turned off that they don't come out. Any sense of what effect the tenor of this race had on turnout?

CORLEY: Well, you know, turnout was so low in this race. Statewide it was very low, and for a number of reasons. But I don't know, this ad might have done some - something in some communities, and I'd like to take issue too. I know that it did offend a lot of black people. But you know, when you find this kind of commercial where you have the mayor of a city slamming an opponent like this, I think that Dan Hynes just thought it was too good or - too good to ignore.

Ms. MITCHELL: But he's a dead mayor. Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MITCHELL: He's an iconic dead mayor. And basically you're talking about something that happened 22 years ago. You know, I mean, after all, if somebody dragged up my past or something I did, or maybe I got fired from a job 22 years ago, that's just wrong. It was a low blow and I think a lot - I do a radio show on Saturday, on Sunday mornings, and it was three to one, people being offended by that ad.

CORLEY: And I think that Pat Quinn didn't really, you know, respond to it like he could have.

Ms. MITCHELL: He was stunned.

CORLEY: Yes.

Ms. MITCHELL: He was embarrassed and he was stunned, as, you know, I can imagine that he would be. He was pretty wounded.

MARTIN: Let's - if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with columnist Mary Mitchell and reporter Cheryl Corley. We're talking about the Illinois primary. Cheryl, just on the Republican side, why was it is so close?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's not forget that.

CORLEY: Yeah, it was very close on the Republican side as well, and that is even closer because you have two state senators who were kind of duking it out - Senator Brady and Senator Kirk Dillard - and they are about 500 votes apart...

Ms. MITCHELL: And surprising, surprising.

CORLEY: Five hundred.

Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah, last week we were talking about Andy McKenna, who is basically in third place and out of it at this point.

CORLEY: Yes.

Ms. MITCHELL: We were talking about him being a former chairman of the Republican Party, that he had a - he was going to be on top - that it was going to be close. But this was amazing. This came out of nowhere. Bill Brady just took off running and the next thing, you know, we have a neck, and neck, and neck contest, which is kind of strange even for Illinois.

MARTIN: And why is that? Why? Why is it so close? Is it because none of these people are particularly well known - so it is hard for them to.

Ms. MITCHELL: No, no. I think it...

CORLEY: I think that all three of these folks are well known throughout Illinois.

Ms. MITCHELL: Low voter turnout. I think that has something - a lot to do. I also think that Republican - Republican voters have been in such - the Republican Party in Illinois has been in such disarray for so long that this race attracted a good opportunity for them that, you know, to right that, to put themselves back in some kind of shape, to be credible again.

CORLEY: And you had candidates who really had issues, were aligned with issues that the party primary voters - Republican primary voters - were very in tune with. All of these guys were very conservative...

Ms. MITCHELL: Good candidates.

CORLEY: ...and good candidates as well.

MARTIN: Let me just remind people who may not remember this - I don't know how you couldn't remember this - but part of this governor's race attracted so much attention is that Pat Quinn had - took the governor's office when Rod Blagojevich had to leave because of all the mess around his efforts - he was accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Speaking of that seat, the incumbent Roland Burris is not running again, so there was also a contest to fill that seat. So, Cheryl, tell us briefly about how that race is looking?

CORLEY: Well, in that race, it looks like we have clearer choices. The Democrats elected the state treasurer of Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias. He's 33 years old, state treasurer, basketball player with...

Ms. MITCHELL: Good friend of President Barack Obama. Yes.

CORLEY: ...his mentee of sorts. So, that's very clear cut. On the other side, we have Mark Kirk. Kirk, who is a five-term U.S. congressman from Illinois, and was clearly seen as the frontrunner in that race - easily beat out a number of other candidates.

Ms. MITCHELL: And you could make that argument that Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk have been running against each other throughout the primary...

CORLEY: That's true.

Ms. MITCHELL: Even though it was a Democratic and Republican primary and last night they squared off, you know, we know now that Mark Kirk is going to hammer home corruption, corruption, corruption, try to tie Giannoulias' family bank, his family's bank, Broadway Bank, into some type of failure; and that Alexi Giannoulias is going to point Mark Kirk as being, you know, old Washington insider. So, it's going to be a fascinating race to watch.

CORLEY: And money is going to pour into that race.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things that we're excited about here is that, I think, in Washington, one of the things that people are excited about is could this be another Scott Brown. Scott Brown being a person who scored, you know, a big win in Massachusetts, seizing the Senate seat that had been held by Ted Kennedy for three decades. Or - is there a similar prospect. I mean, this is Barack Obama's old Senate seat and is there a sense there, Mary, that - that there's a similar prospect?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, anything can happen but if you watch Mark Kirk, I'm telling you right now, he is not a Scott Brown. I mean, that's not going to be it. I mean, he doesn't have that kind of charisma and he is not an outsider. He is an insider. But what this race will do is that people are going to be focused on it nationally, and of course, it's going to put pressure on the Obama administration. Is he going to help his friend? Is he going to come here? Is he going to do like he did in Massachusetts and get there too late to save the day? Or is he going to get there early enough so that he will have an impact in this election?

CORLEY: Well, I think it'll be a whole different thing here. I mean, this is his home state and I think we will expect to see the president here and a lot of money poured into this race on both sides.

MARTIN: If for no other reason than that it was a wake-up call - if for no other reason than Massachusetts was perhaps a wake-up call, Mary?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, the reason why people are saying or thinking that this is going to be kind of dicey for the Obama administration is because - you mentioned it before - the Blagojevich trial may be in full swing and do you want Rezko to come up? And do you want all that garbage to spill over back again into the White House? It's going to be a little - it's going to be a tough decision on how much he does and does he do it outright or does he use someone else to do it?

MARTIN: Well, hopefully, the two of you will keep us posted. Thanks for a spirited discussion. Mary Mitchell is a columnist for The Chicago Sun Times. Cheryl Corley is a reporter for NPR in Chicago. They both joined us from WBEZ. We're sure you do appreciate it ladies. Thank you.

Ms. MITCHELL: You're welcome.

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