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Brady Wins GOP Governor Nomination: Margin was 193 votes; Dillard Concedes Primary Election

Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington
WUIS/Illinois Issues


Editor's note: This article was updated after vote totals were certified March 5. Please see theIllinois Issues blog for the latest information on the governor's race.


In the wee hours of February 3, as Republican state Sen. Bill Brady spoke to supporters and claimed victory as the party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee, he compared himself to a coach.

“We’re not done,” he advised the crowd in his hometown of Bloomington. “We’re just through the first half of this game.”

That’s one way of looking at the outcome of the February 2 Republican primary for governor, which showed Brady with a 193-vote win over fellow GOP state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale after votes were certified on March 5. 

But other sports lingo might better describe the unusually close results: This election looked as if it could have headed into overtime before Dillard finally decided not to seek a recount after the vote certification.

Brady had said that by the time all of the votes were tabulated, including the ones from valid absentee and provisional ballots, he expected to remain in first place among the Republican hopefuls for governor. 

“Our attorneys tell us we’re likely to pick up a few votes when it’s all said and done because the absentees and the provisionals break, generally, the same way the election did,” Brady said soon after the election.

“In a race this close, it’s important that every vote count,” Dillard said three days after the election. He later said he would wait until the votes were certified before deciding whether to concede and that he would not seek a recount if Brady's final margin of victory was more than 100 votes.

On March 5, Illinois State Board of Elections certified that Brady's margin was 193 votes, and that he received 20.26 percent of the GOP votes for governor, while Dillard received 20.24 percent. Brady will face Democrat incumbent Pat Quinn in the November general election.

Most political observers were stunned by Brady’s strong showing among the field of six GOP candidates — seven if you include Bob Schillerstrom, who withdrew too late to have his name removed from the election ballot.

GOP state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues
WUIS/Illinois Issues
GOP state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale

Pundits had predicted the Republican winner would come from a group of three: businessman and former state party chairman Andy McKenna, 2002 gubernatorial candidate and ex-Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and Dillard, who was endorsed by former Gov. Jim Edgar. McKenna, in particular, flooded the airwaves with negative political ads on television.

“McKenna spent a lot of money the last week [of the campaign] beating up on Kirk Dillard and Jim Ryan, and to a smaller extent, they replied toward McKenna,” says Edgar, now a distinguished fellow with the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “But nobody beat up on Bill Brady because nobody thought he was a serious threat here in the last week. Well, that kind of left the opening, when it got real tight between those three, that he was able to kind of slip by.”

Brady also held a geographical advantage because he was the lone candidate from downstate Illinois, Edgar says. The rest of the Republicans live in Chicago or its suburbs. 

Three of them, Dillard, Ryan and Schillerstrom, make their homes in heavily Republican DuPage County. Dillard says that was a huge factor in the way primary votes were split.

Though Schillerstrom had taken himself out of the race by Election Day, he still garnered more than 7,000 votes. Dillard believes a significant number of those votes would have gone to him, enabling him to win “pretty easily” if Schillerstrom’s name had been dropped from the ballot.

“And obviously, I would have won very, very handily if Jim Ryan was not in the race,” Dillard adds. “DuPage [County] definitely was in the circular firing squad, cannibalized itself. No one stepped up with authority in DuPage County to pare the field down. That’s a shame.” 

Brady wasn’t surprised by his performance on primary night. 

“Our strategy all along was to deliver the base. We launched a grass-roots effort several months ago,” he said. “That grass-roots effort launched hundreds of volunteers who were working to identify the people who supported me and make sure they got out to vote.”

Brady says his campaign didn’t have “millions and millions” to spend, so his political advertising budget targeted downstate, rather than the pricier Chicago media market. 

The groundwork paid off. Brady dominated in downstate Illinois, winning in more than 70 counties. He fared worse in Cook County and the surrounding collar counties, placing a consistent fifth. 

Dillard says his campaign’s internal polling accurately gauged the tightness of the race, showing that he and Brady were virtually tied but giving Dillard a narrow edge.

“I knew the race would be close,” Dillard said soon after the election. “Obviously, I never dreamed it would be this close. This is like right-out-of-the-movies close.”

None of the Republican candidates “seemed to take the bull by the horns and charge out in front,” says Ron Michaelson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “Everybody was appealing to different constituencies, and it resulted in a situation where Brady, who looked like he was lagging fourth in the polls going down the stretch, may turn out to be a close winner.”

Indeed, public polls generally didn’t put Brady in the upper tier of candidates.

Polling expert Richard Schuldt, director of the UIS Survey Research Office, says that the Pollster.com Web site provides a look at three public polls conducted in mid-January or later. Two of those polls identified the three leading GOP candidates as McKenna, Dillard and Ryan, with McKenna holding the No. 1 slot. The third poll, from Public Policy Polling, put Dillard in first place and included Brady in the top three, knocking Ryan down to fourth.

All three polls listed 17 percent of respondents as “undecided.”

Schuldt offers a couple of possible reasons why the polls mostly overlooked Brady. They might not have accurately identified “likely voters,” and they might have mistakenly estimated voter turnout, he says.

Further, Schuldt says, the undecided voters, along with others, could have been influenced by the tremendous number of political advertisements that played on TV and radio during the week before the election. Last-minute shifts in voter sentiment aren’t captured in polls “because they are one-shot snapshots at a given point in time.” 

“There’s more movement in a primary election, and particularly when you don’t have much time for campaigning and voters know less about the candidates,” he adds.

The Survey Research Office, located within the Center for State Policy and Leadership, conducts polling for government agencies and nonprofit organizations. 

Deciding whether to pursue a recount probably wasn't easy for Dillard, who has pledged to support Brady.

“When you come so close, you kind of owe it to your supporters, you owe it to your contributors, you owe it to yourself to exhaust all of your remedies, to make sure that this is really the right result,” Michaelson says. But on the other hand, he said a recount would delay the effort for the party to coalesce behind the winner and get its act together for the fall. He said that at this point, Brady is "the underdog” in an election against Quinn.

Several analysts predict that Republicans all across the United States will do well in the 2010 elections.

“It’s Political Science 101,” says David Yepsen, who heads the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “The Democrats have got everything in Washington. The Democrats have everything in Springfield. The party in power, at a time when voters are this angry, is going to take a hit.”

Still, some political observers suggest that Brady — an anti-abortion, pro-gun Republican — is “too conservative” to win election as governor in Illinois, which has become increasingly Democratic over the years. 

Others say that isn’t necessarily true.

“If you look across the 50 states, in terms of voting patterns, ‘blue’ states will very often elect a Republican as governor, and ‘red’ states will often elect a Demo-crat as governor — sometimes people who are fairly liberal or conservative — because there are other statewide issues, and personality and image play a stronger role than in Senate contests,” says Tari Renner, a political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. Renner, a Democrat, also serves on the McLean County Board.

Brady isn’t shy about brandishing his conservative credentials.

“I’m a Reagan conservative, there’s no question about it,” he says. “But I think my strength and focus has always been on the economy, job creation and reducing the tax burden. Frankly, I think Illinois is a center-right state.”

He plans to spotlight his policy differences with Quinn, especially Quinn’s proposal to boost the state income tax by 50 percent.

“I want to cut taxes so we can generate more business investment in Illinois and more jobs for Illinois families,” says Brady, who also has called for 10 percent across-the-board cuts to the state budget.

He adds: “We’ve got to deconstruct and reconstruct a budget that actually provides a surplus so we can pay down the backlog of unpaid bills but live within our means.”

Cutting that much from the budget would be difficult, Edgar says.

“There’s some programs you can’t cut because people will die,” he says. “What might work in business doesn’t always work in government.”

Yet Edgar believes the main issue in the general election will be Quinn’s performance as chief executive. That could benefit the GOP candidate, regardless of whether it’s Brady or Dillard. 

“If it’s Bill Brady, who might be philosophically more to the right than most Illinois voters, that may not enter into it as much as what do people think about Pat Quinn, the kind of job he is doing,” Edgar says. 

Even so, Brady, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2006, will face challenges as the Republican nominee. For instance, he isn’t well-known in populous northeastern Illinois.

Dillard has said that Brady will be hampered by the fact that his running mate, lieutenant governor hopeful Jason Plummer of Edwardsville, also lives south of Interstate 80. 

“They’ll have to find a way to connect with suburban voters,” Dillard said before the votes were certified.

James Nowlan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, expects Democrats to portray Brady and Plummer as “yokels” from downstate “who don’t understand the challenges of suburbia and metropolitan Chicago.”

Top Republican legislators have said they will have no problems unifying behind their candidate for governor, whether that turned out to be Brady or Dillard. House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who backed McKenna in the primary, says he will be “100 percent behind the nominee.” Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, who made no endorsement for governor in the primary, said either Brady or Dillard would make a good governor.

Brady’s perspective is that of a businessman, Radogno says. “When he talks about jobs, when he talks about taxes, he’s looking at it from the outside. That’s his frame of reference, even though he’s obviously been in the legislature for some time.”

No matter who wins the governorship in November, Edgar believes that man will be in for a rough time because of the state’s relentless financial woes.

“I don’t think there’s any time in the history, at least my history, of this state that it’s more important who is elected governor,” he says.

Edgar says he told Dillard that if he ended up losing a close primary race to Brady, “the only consolation is, I am convinced by not being elected governor of the state of Illinois, you’ll live at least six years longer.

“I’m not sure that comforted him a whole lot, but I think it’s very true. I do think the next governor, if the next governor’s going to do the job, is going to probably wonder: Why did I ever run for this office?”

Adriana Colindres is a Springfield-based free-lance writer. 

Illinois Issues, March 2010

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