What is Sen. Sam McCann going to do? On March 13, a week before the Primary, McCann announced he would run as an independent either for governor or for his current position, the 50th State Senate district. Because you cannot be both a state senator and governor, he cannot run for both.
But during his announcement, he gave himself a 30 day window to make his decision. Having passed the halfway mark, that still leaves plenty of time for speculation. And while independent candidates are often seen as “unserious,” a sitting Republican state senator is no ordinary independent. So what is McCann going to do?
McCann is currently the Senator for the 50th senate district. Officially, he is a Republican. However, he has clashed on several occasions with both Governor Rauner and the party establishment, making him an outsider in his own party. This has led to the Republican Party running candidates against him; Bryce Benton in 2014, and Steve McClure in 2018 (in the interest of full disclosure, I am currently involved with the McClure Campaign). McCann defeated Benton in the Republican primary in 2014, but did not run in the 2018 Republican primary against McClure.
Even without the party’s support, McCann has still been able to raise a considerable amount of money. According to Illinois Sunshine, McCann had nearly $200,000 on hand at the end of 2017, and has raised another $57,000 in 2018. For a candidate that has yet to declare what office he’s seeking, that is a lot of money.
Running for Governor:
It is no secret that McCann and Rauner do not get along, and there are many factors which suggest McCann will run against him. The most obvious is the timing of his initial announcement, which was a week before the Republican Primary. At that point, it was a real possibility that Ives might beat Rauner. Other Republicans who had an issue with Rauner took a step back to allow Ives to run her campaign; as two or more challengers all but assure an incumbent victory. If Ives had won, it would have eliminated one of McCann’s main reasons for running for governor.
Ives may not have won, but she showed there is strong discontent with the Rauner administration within the Republican Party. And on the Democratic side, Pritzker has his own issues that could potentially alienate some of his base. There are a lot of voters who didn’t vote for Rauner or Pritzker in the primary.
McCann’s war chest also puts him in a position to make a serious bid for the governorship. Both Biss and Ives ran very competitive campaigns despite being at a significant financial disadvantage. But with mega-donors like Richard Uihlein in the equation (who donated $2.5 million to Ives), McCann could quickly close some the fundraising gap.
Running for State Senate:
But running for State Senate also has its own logic. The one advantage to picking this race is the district itself. The 50th is McCann’s home turf, and he has beaten strongly supported challengers here in the past. A state senate race is also much smaller than a statewide campaign, allowing him to target his resources more efficiently. This is especially important since he hasn’t been actively campaigning for the last six months. The smaller scale also makes the race much cheaper.
The opposition also makes the 50th a reasonable choice. Both Rauner and Pritzker have millions in the bank and statewide name recognition. They are both established figures in their respective parties. In the 50th, McCann would be facing off against Steve McClure. McClure has strong backing in the Republican Party, but it is his first campaign. Without a primary opponent, his campaign was largely overshadowed by the other hotly contested races in the area. This diminished McClure’s advantage of getting to actively campaign during the primary season. And with no Democrats running in the 50th, McCann would only be facing off against McClure, instead of a possibly five-way race for governor.
Getting signatures is also much easier in the 50th. Independents only need 5,517 signatures to get on the ballot in that race, but need 25,000 to run for statewide office. As an independent, McCann will not have access to the normal party resources or volunteer pool. With the clock ticking on the filing window, just ensuring ballot access is a serious concern. If he fails to get on the ballot, he will have to run as a write in, and running as a write in is exponentially more difficult than an independent bid.
One other theory is that McCann would run in the governor’s race with no intention of winning, but would be a deliberate spoiler. The 2014 governor’s race was decided by just 142,000 votes, so tipping the balance would not be difficult. But then the question is, who would McCann be spoiling the race for? The Democrats would want a Republican to siphon votes away from Rauner, but the Republicans might also feel McCann would present a moderate alternative for Democrats who don’t want to vote for a billionaire.
But the real candidate who might be spoiled is Kash Jackson, the Libertarian nominee. The Libertarians can win a major victory if Jackson wins just five percent of the total vote. If he does, the Libertarian Party will become “established” in the state for all races. This would dramatically decrease the barriers to ballot access the Libertarians would face in the future.
Making it easier for the Libertarians to get on the ballot would likely hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats, so McCann may come back into the fold by blocking the Libertarians. And blocking them may be a wise strategy. The Libertarians got 3.4 percent of the vote in 2014. And with Ives getting 340,000 votes in the primary along with their normal base, the Libertarians have far more than enough potential votes to reach the five percent threshold.
What do I think?
In the end, I predict McCann will run for the 50th. McCann strikes me as someone who is in it to win it, and only the 50th seems even plausibly winnable at this point. Both Rauner and Pritzker have a huge lead in name recognition, and the cemented support of their primary voters. No one who voted for either of them in the primary is likely to change their vote in the future, because they already had the option to vote for someone else. That already puts McCann behind by more than 300,000 prospective votes.
By running in the 50th, McCann can leverage his incumbent status and his ostracism from the party establishment. His conflict with the party leadership also matters much less in the general election. In a primary, he would have needed to beat an endorsed Republican among just Republican voters; and he likely would have lost. In the general, he can count on Democratic and independent support, which may offset the lost support from the party.
And while McCann could probably spoil the governor’s race for someone, he does not seem like the kind of person who would do that. There are already two right-of-center third party candidates running for governor, so the Democrats don’t need a third person to siphon off Rauner votes. And if McCann was willing to trade favors with Rauner, he could have avoided the need for an independent run in the first place.
Back in December, McCann did announce he would not seek re-election to the state senate, so it is possible he will embark on a quixotic campaign for governor. But running for office is hugely expensive and stressful for the candidate and their family. It only makes sense to take on that burden if you plan to win. And winning starts with being realistic about what race you might have a chance in.
Langfelder remains confident in his Township merger question
Springfield is on its way to eliminating a unit of government. Capital Township, which is coterminous with the City of Springfield, is moving towards consolidation. Currently, Sangamon County is trying to get the township to merge with the county. But Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder is pushing the effort for the township to be merged into the city.
The County’s effort had strong momentum going for it before the election. Both the township board and the county have approved the merger. To further solidify their mandate, they put a non-binding question on the November 6th ballot. That question asked if the county and township should pursue a full merger. The effort passed with 75 percent support, or 31,800 votes.
Despite the progress the County’s effort is making, Langfelder still thinks the city should take over the township. He remains confident that voters will support his ballot question. But that support will have to come in two parts. Because the Springfield City Council declined to endorse his question, Langfelder will need signatures to get on the April ballot at all, in addition to getting votes on Election Day.
Republicans Davis and LaHood hold onto congressional seats
Both Congressmen who serve the Springfield area retained their seats last night. Darin LaHood (R-18) and Rodney Davis (R-13) will be going back to Washington DC. LaHood had a decisive victory with 67.5 percent of the vote against Democrat Junius Rodriguez who took 32.5 percent. Davis had a much closer race. He won out over Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan by a margin of just 3,700 votes.
But Illinois Congressional races generally went towards the Democrats. The 6th District went to Sean Casten over Republican incumbent Peter Roskam. Lauren Underwood came out over Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren in the 14th. These races were part of the Democrats retaking of the US House of Representatives. Illinois now has 13 Democratic and 5 Republican Congressional Representatives.
Even in the races they won, Republicans have reasons to be concerned. LaHood received 57,000 fewer votes in his rematch against Rodriguez than he did in 2016. Rodriguez’s total dropped just 3,000 votes. Davis faced a similar situation. Where the Democrats actually gained 5,000 votes in the 13th, Davis’ total declined by 52,000.
While a win is a win, even these high points of last night’s election should be worrying to the Illinois Republican Party.
Sales tax and township consolidation propositions pass
In addition to the candidates running for office, there were several questions on the ballot for voters in Sangamon County. One question was if Capital Township should be consolidated with Sangamon County. The other was if there should be a one percent sales tax to help schools pay for facility improvements.
Both questions passed. The township question passed handily with 75 percent of the vote. The sales tax was approved much more narrowly, 53 to 47 percent.
Because it was a non-binding question, the township vote will do nothing by itself. It will, however, strengthen the case for the county and township to consolidate.
The sales tax referendum was a binding question, and will go into effect July of 2019. It is expected to raise about $10 million for District 186, and another $10 million for other districts in Sangamon County.