By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Pat Quinn never was going to run as a moderate, but in recent days the Democrat gave voters the surest sign yet that he will be running for re-election from the left.
Quinn has hired Bill Hyers, a former chief strategist for newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blassio.
“Bill Hyers knows how to compete and he will be a strong force for our campaign,” Quinn said in a statement announcing the move. “With his help and the help of people across Illinois, we’re going to run a strong grassroots campaign and continue to move Illinois forward.”
Quinn won four years ago on a platform that he was a man of the people platform. And now, the governor apparently is doubling down on that message.
Quinn has said he will make a priority of raising Illinois’ minimum wage, already the highest in the Midwest, from $8.25 an hour to “at least $10 an hour.” And the governor has promised to push initiatives ranging from mandatory sick days for part-time workers to more spending on early childhood education.
“I think (this strategy) is a recognition by the governor that he’s got a tough road ahead,” David Yepsen, former journalist and executive director at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute told Illinois Watchdog. “Some polling has him trailing anyone of the four Republicans running in their primary. And his job-approval rating is one of the worst in the country.”
A Public Policy Polling survey from November 2013 shows 60 percent of voters who were asked disapprove of Quinn’s job performance. That would make him the third most unpopular governor is America.
“Pat Quinn has got to shore-up his base,” Yepsen said. “We all know Pat Quinn has had some trouble inside the Democratic party.”
The governor faced a serious challenge, if only a brief one, from Democratic insider Bill Daley, and many of the labor unions that have poured millions into Quinn’s campaign are furious over Illinois’ pension reform.
Yepsen said by going back to the people, the governor can find a message that will work with Democratic voters.
Others say Quinn’s populism may be played out.
“Gov. Quinn is an excellent populist politician, but while populists can gain favor for brief periods, it is hard to sustain it over the long run,” John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute said. “The essence of the strategy is to divide people, driven by resentment and bitterness based on false narratives that must hide the truth.”
Tillman said the addition of a de Blassio strategist is interesting, but he does not believe Quinn will move even farther to the left where de Blassio found his votes.
“Illinois is a diverse state, very different than New York City. I don’t expect the unseemly, divisive class warfare that worked there to be as popular here,” Tillman said in an email to Illinois Watchdog.
But as Quinn appears to be ginning up support on the left, he also is gearing up for potential a showdown with multimillionaire Bruce Rauner.
Yepsen said there will be no middle ground in November if the race is Quinn on the left and Rauner on the right.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.