Labor Day weekend used to signal the official beginning of that fall’s political campaign.
Except there is no election this coming November.
And political campaigns are now waged every day of every week of every month, with no respect for the calendar.
We still are 14 months from the November 2014 election.
But the campaign is already underway.
In a metaphysical sense, it’s always been underway.
TIME NOW FOR A political quiz, just to allow you to flex those electoral muscles before they wither from lack of exercise.
What was Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner talking about when he recently uttered this statement?
“We’re going down the drain. We’re in a death spiral.”
A) The Cubs and White Sox
B) The state of Illinois
C) The Illinois Republican Party
D) All of the above
E) None of the above
How’s that for multiple choice?
GOOD NEWS FOR the Cubs and White Sox.
Because they are both in last place in their respective divisions, they cannot drop any lower.
Plus, they don’t have the worst record in their leagues. (Thanks, Miami; thanks, Houston.)
Both also have the same goal for this year: Try not to lose 100 games.
But we don’t think Rauner was talking about baseball.
GIVEN THE CONTEXT of his remarks and his campaign so far, Rauner seemed to be talking about the fiscal crisis in the state of Illinois.
“Death spiral” might be a bit dramatic, but no hyperbole is too hyper in a political campaign.
Illinois will survive, somehow, despite all the governmental bumbling in Springfield.
The pension system will get “fixed,” though nobody will be completely happy with the solution.
That will make for great debate next year during the campaign for governor – in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, and again in the general election.
Both parties expect to have competitive primaries, so you will have a difficult time avoiding political TV commercials between January and November.
Rauner already has been heavy on the airwaves, with the billionaire dressed in his Everyman working clothes while he talks about creating jobs.
How long can Republican hopefuls Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard and Dan Rutherford yield the stage to Rauner – knowing they’re unlikely to match his campaign dollar for dollar?
Now that Labor Day is here, maybe things will pick up – even if it is a year early on the traditional political calendar.
ANSWER C) ABOVE raises the question of electing a red governor in this blue state.
Long gone, it seems, are the days of Thompson, Edgar and Ryan, who represent a time when Republicans sat in the governor’s seat continuously for the last quarter of the 20th century – seven straight winning campaigns.
Of course, there was no way Republicans could lose the 2010 race – the Blagojevich scandal was in full bloom, tea party Republicans owned the mid-term election ... what could possibly go wrong?
Democrats next spring will renominate or renounce Gov. Pat Quinn, who is being challenged – and pretty aggressively – by William Daley of the Chicago Daleys.
Although it’s pretty hard to imagine how Republicans can mess this one up in another mid-term election with a Democrat in the White House ... well, this was the party that chose ... oh, what was his name? The guy from Maryland ... to try to keep Barack Obama from winning a first term in the U.S. Senate – but not from Maryland.
In 2010, they chose ultra-conservative Brady to run for governor, but he proved to be unelectable in a can’t-lose election.
Who now? The “outsider” Rauner, or one of the party insiders among state Sens. Brady and Dillard and Treasurer Rutherford?
No matter who they pick, they can’t possibly lose again. Can they?
ONE INTERESTING twist to the 2014 gubernatorial campaign will be that the governor will run as a team with his chosen candidate for lieutenant governor – call it the Scott Lee Cohen amendment.
Candidates for governor will tell you they will pick the best person for the job, which would be a person most capable of stepping into the governor’s job if necessary – and a person willing to join as No. 2 on a ticket with an uncertain future.
That’s not exactly how things work, however.
Candidates for governor look for someone who can bring “balance” – votes and money – to the campaign.
That might mean a woman will be on the ticket. And some advantage goes to the first candidate to announce his running mate will be female. That puts pressure on opponents to do the same – or risk alienating half the voters.
After never having had a female lieutenant governor, Indiana has put women in that office the past three elections. And both the winning Republican and losing Democratic tickets in those campaigns had women in the No. 2 spot.
But geographical balance also can be important. Chicago-centered candidates might make a downstate choice, while downstate candidates can hardly afford to ignore the strength of the Cook County vote – Democratic and Republican.
As for philosophical balance, not so much. Can one candidate on the ticket be pro-life, and the running mate be pro-choice? Pro gay marriage vs. anti? Pro flat tax vs. graduated state income tax?
SO THE ANSWER to the quiz is ... E) None of the above.
Cubs and Sox will be better next year. We predict they won’t both finish in last place in 2014. That’s better, isn’t it?
Chicago is the economic center of the Midwest, so Illinois will certainly survive. And the Democrats who control state government might actually be productive next year under the looming threat of an election.
The Illinois Republican Party has nowhere to go but up, and a victory in the governor’s race next year would change the state’s political equation dramatically.
Even if Republicans don’t totally have their act together, Democrats seem intent on self-destruction. How much longer will voters put up with such legislative negligence in the face of crisis?
Their patience might already have expired.
But we won’t know for sure for 14 months.