Statewide primaries are fascinating exercises. They illuminate the different types of people who define the party. Elected officials, who usually have a finely-tuned sense of the political consensus in their area, as well as a very good read on the wishes of the higher-ups in the party, are great symbols for how different parts of the state are thinking.
The only vigorously-contested statewide primary Democrats have this year is the open seat for Treasurer. Judy Baar Topinka, the Republican with the most cross-over appeal, is running for Governor. Her heir apparent is another suburban woman legislator, Christine Radogno, who managed to clear the GOP field. She'll be a formidable candidate for whichever Democrat survives the primary.
The two men competing for the slot are Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri (campaign website here) and Chicago banker Alexi Giannoulias (campaign website here).
The best thing one can say about Mangieri's campaign is that he is backed quite strongly by Speaker Michael Madigan. The second best thing one can say is that he had the fortitude to run for the office early when the Republicans were flirting with Jim Edgar and conventional wisdom suggested that Judy Baar Topinka was likely to run for re-election (along with every single other statewide official). A run for Treasurer against Topinka was considered about as much of a kamikaze mission as running against Jesse White or Dan Hynes or Lisa Madigan (at least, that's my view of conventional wisdom last summer), and Mangieri was essentially the only elected official willing to campaign for the job.
Once the Republican ticket shook itself out and Topinka relinquished her seat, progressives found themselves a bit out of sorts. Mangieri has been a pro-life official, and after Barack Obama's stunning 70% plus victory in the last statewide primary (a race he wasn't supposed to win), these was a lingering sense that another progressive ought to get the seat -- or at least, not just concede that precious post to a pro-lifer without a primary.
Populist Representative Mike Boland and blogging Representative John Fritchey (both of whom would be considered progressive) flirted with a run, but Speaker Madigan convinced Boland to run for re-election in his increasingly Republican district and Fritchey, for a number of reasons, decided he didn't want to run either.
That left....no one.
Into the void stepped an unlikely candidate: Alexi Giannoulias. The son of Greek immigrants who started the very successful Broadway Bank in Chicago, a young, good-looking former semi-pro basketball player and a bit of a man about town, Giannoulias had the money and connections to put together a fairly impressive campaign in short notice. One very important connection: Barack Obama's political man in Illinois, Dan Shomon, who played a crucial role in creating the candidacy. (At least, I credit Dan, but I'm just a third-hand observer, and not a participant in the campaign).
Speaker Madigan's main motivation in supporting Mangieri, according to press accounts, is the desire to avoid a Chicago-only ticket. All statewide Democrats live in Chicago. That's not a great message to send to Downstaters, who tend to place a higher degree of importance to a candidate's domicile than people from the city. (One quick anecdote: a College Republican from Champaign County told me in 1998 that he'd be happy with the Salvi-Durbin U.S. Senate race no matter what, because either the Republican would win or a the Downstater Dick Durbin would win. This is from a fairly partisan guy.) I recall seeing faxes in 2002 showing a map of Chicago with the residences of all the Democratic statewide candidates (including Tom Dart), calling for an end to Chicago dominance of Illinois politics. I'd imagine that message resonated a bit Downstate.
Sensing a possible problem for the 2006 re-election campaign, Speaker Madigan moved to fill the gap by supporting a Downstater.
Progressives (however defined) are far less motivated by the risk of a Chicago-only ticket. The endorsers of Giannoulias (read them here) are essentially the base of the Obama coalition: white north side progressives and south side blacks. Pro-choicers and the gay community are early supporters as well.
Because Mangieri doesn't have a campaign website that lists his endorsements (symptomatic, I think, of his supporters, who value a hard-working precinct campaign far more than a fancy website), it's hard to say exactly who his endorses are. But I do know that Speaker Madigan has made it a point to work on collecting supporter for his primary campaign, so it's safe to say that there are far more elected officials who support Mangieri than Giannoulias, as Obama certainly inspires affection and devotion from the electorate, but Speaker Madigan earns more political deference from elected officials.
The best political shorthand for the pre-primary battle is Obama versus Madigan. I'm not suggesting there's any sort of a fight between these two men, but they are both good symbols of the wings of the party that are backing each candidate. I have heard that Obama's endorsement (his first really high-profile endorsement since his election to the Senate) has been worth its weight in gold (and the web designer for Giannoulias certainly thinks so). So this will be a really interesting six weeks.
Perhaps the most interesting question for progressives is whether it's a smarter move to back a Downstater in order to help solidify the Democratic Party's standing Downstate generally (and perhaps marginally improve Blagojevich's re-election chances) or to support a Chicago progressive who can help escalate the progressive wing's internal clout in the party, but perhaps marginally hurt the other statewide's relection chances.
After seeing the inspiring litany of bills that the Democratic majority in the General Assembly have been able to pass in the last three years, I'm growing more sympathetic to the Speaker's sense of strategy. I might be over-valuing the importance of a non-Chicago-only ticket (or put another way, I might be overestimating the risk of a Downstate backlash to a Chicago-only ticket), but I'd like to dampen the potential for a Chicago-only ticket backlash any way possible.