Democratic Nomination Still Too Close to Call; Harold Likely to Win Republican Nomination

The 2018 primary election season for the 31 State Attorney General (“AG”) contests officially kicked-off last week in Texas, but the first high-profile and competitive AG primary election will take place in Illinois on March 20. This is an open seat race since AG Lisa Madigan is not seeking a fifth term. A total of 10 candidates (eight Democrats and 2 Republicans) are vying for their parties’ nominations.

In Illinois, the winner of a primary election is the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes, even if he or she does not win an outright majority of total votes cast. With eight candidates running for the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs only more than 20% of the total vote. Reports indicate that even at this late stage in the race, a significant percentage of potential Democratic voters remain undecided. That means that a late surge of momentum by a candidate could propel them to win the race.

Since declaring his intention to run in late September 2017, State Senator Kwame Raoul emerged as the reported front-runner early on with key endorsements from the Cook County Democratic Party (Chicago), the AFL-CIO, and the Chicago Teachers Union, among others. He also has consistently led his Democratic challengers in fundraising. Heading into the primary election, Raoul has over $2.4M cash on hand[1], having raised over $1M since January.

However, in the last month, the dynamics of this race have shifted and continue to remain fluid. According to reports, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn may now be the one to beat. Quinn has been a prominent figure in Illinois politics for decades and has the benefit of wide name recognition. He still trails Raoul in fundraising, but his momentum is evident given that most of his campaign funding has been raised in the last two months. He now has $1.3M cash on hand having raised $1M of that since January.[2]

There is also a very real possibility that Sharon Fairley, a former Assistant AG, federal prosecutor, and Chief Administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, who has received the coveted endorsements of the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, and State Journal-Register, may surprise everyone and rally to win. The Democratic race has included a great deal of criticism and complaints about special interest money, fundraising tactics, and ethics, meaning that Fairley may be perceived by voters as the political outsider who will clean-up alleged corruption. That said, Fairley herself has publicly acknowledged her fundraising disadvantage in the race with only $545k cash on hand.[3]

A poll released on February 28, 2018, by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University (“SIU”) showed Raoul leading with 22%, followed by Quinn with 18%. While none of other candidates, including Fairley, managed to garner double digit support, it is important to note that 40% of voters are still undecided.

On the Republican side, Erika Harold is the reported heavy favorite to win over litigator Gary Grasso. Harold is a former Miss America who used her winnings for her education at Harvard Law School. This race’s momentum has always been on her side, and she is also the favorite of the Republican Attorneys General Association.[4] In addition to support from a long line of state legislators including House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, she has also received the endorsements of the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, and State Journal-Register.

That being said, Grasso remains a factor in the race. The latest SIU poll cited above showed the Republican primary to be a “dead heat” with Harold garnering 18% and Grasso 14%. As with Democrats, however, two-thirds of the voters polled were undecided.

Like our readers, we will be watching closely on March 20 as the results come in to determine who will vie in November to become the next AG of Illinois. To receive real-time AG primary and general election results via text message or email, please click here to be directed to Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Election Tracker’s sign up page.