Will the Trump Era Put Illinois’ Race for Attorney General on a National Stage?
Recently, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan surprised Illinois politicos by announcing she will not seek a fifth term. In the following weeks, a flurry of activity has taken over the news cycle, as many well-known contenders consider a run to replace Madigan.
Illinois’ AG race, which was already guaranteed to be hotly contested once Republican challenger Erika Harold began to gain steam, is shaping up to be a highly-publicized contest. The Illinois AG race follows a rising trend across the nation, where competition for these statewide posts is fierce, especially among Democratic hopefuls.
|Importance of the AG Race on the National Level|
Many states’ attorneys general have been active this year in pushing back on specific items in President Trump’s agenda. Lisa Madigan has actively challenged the Trump administration throughout the eight months since Trump took office. Since January, Madigan’s office has sued Trump’s EPA, the Department of Education, and the President’s administration over deregulation and executive orders, including Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in early September.
A willingness to challenge the president may be a prerequisite for candidates hoping to become attorney general in Illinois. According to a Gallup report, President Trump had an average approval rating of 36% in Illinois through June 30, when his national approval rating averaged 40%. More recent polls conducted on the state level are not available, but since July 1, the president’s public support has stayed between 38% and 42% on the national level.
For both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the AG’s role in times of national importance can place a high value on these races. The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) committed last week to inject $15 million into races for attorney general in states with vulnerable seats. This latest push comes after the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) has spent $23 million over the past two years to secure their 27 attorneys general offices nationwide.
Across the US, there will be 30 attorney general races in 2018. In some states, including Illinois, state governments divided between Democrats and Republicans give an indication that these contests are winnable by either party. In other states, close 2016 election results in traditional solidly red or blue states give candidates hope of winning their races.
In Wisconsin, candidate Josh Kaul is a Democrat hoping to unseat Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. Despite the fact that Wisconsin has a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature, Kaul’s candidacy is backed by DAGA as a vulnerable office, since Hillary Clinton lost the state to President Trump by just 1% of the vote. However, Wisconsin Republicans are ready for a fight, helping Schimel raise $454,000 for his campaign. For comparison, in 2014, Schimel did not reach that fundraising amount until 3 months before the election.
And while many people consider Illinois a consistently Democratic state, recent election results warn against counting either party out of a big statewide race. Gaining the governor’s mansion in 2014 and picking up seats in the General Assembly in 2016, Illinois Republicans have shown their ability to keep races close, especially when the stakes are high. The possibility of a close race, the unprecedented amounts of money, and the national importance of the office make the Illinois attorney general race a potential target for national attention, and the resulting money that attention brings.