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Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is one of the most unpopular governors in the country, with abhorrent approval ratings in Illinois.
He’s not a big hit on Capitol Hill either. But, so far, neither is his new primary opponent, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
Many Illinois Democrats in Congress are staying far away from the gubernatorial primary, according to a survey of the delegation by CQ Roll Call. The primary could prove pivotal for some Illinois Democrats, whose political future will depend on the gubernatorial race topping their ticket.
But even members who know both candidates, such as freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth, declined to choose sides.
“I have a lot of friends in the race,” Duckworth said in between votes on Wednesday. “Right now I have no plans” to endorse.
Duckworth worked for the Quinn administration as his director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She’s also accepted campaign cash from Daley, who records show donated the maximum contribution to her House race last cycle.
Other Democrats echoed Duckworth, including Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin. His spokesman said via email that Durbin “isn’t going to get involved in the primary.”
Rep. Danny K. Davis proved the exception by saying he backed Quinn for re-election. But many of his Illinois colleagues said they were staying out of the race for now.
Freshman Rep. Bill Enyart “doesn’t plan on any primary endorsements in the foreseeable future,” according to his spokesman. The same goes for Reps. Bill Foster and Cheri Bustos, both of whom could face tough races in 2014.
“Congresswoman Bustos plans to stay neutral in the primary and has exactly one focus right now and that is serving the people of Illinois’ 17th congressional District,” Bustos spokesman Colin Milligan said.
Other Democrats in the delegation did not return requests for comment.
Many Illinois members might wait until the primary field is complete before backing a candidate, cautioned state Democratic consultants. Popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan has not said yet whether she will join the race.
In the past, Madigan has eschewed bids for other statewide offices. In 2010, the White House wooed her to run for Senate without success. But if she enters the gubernatorial race, her candidacy would heighten what’s already predicted to be a competitive and brutal primary.
“Chances are, if all of those players get in, I would say ugly might be an understatement,” said Ann Liston, a Democratic consultant based in Chicago.
Recent public polls show a competitive three-way primary. In a February poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Madigan led Quinn, 32 percent to 23 percent; Daley scored 12 percent.
Once the Democratic primary field is complete, it’s possible the delegation might coalesce behind a candidate. Because every Illinois Democrat in Congress will share a ballot with the eventual nominee, their endorsements might prove a telling indicator for the primary.
“It is going to be the most fascinating dance to watch in the country,” said Kevin Lampe, a longtime Democratic consultant in Illinois. “It will be better than ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”
In 2008 and 2012, Illinois Democrats benefited from having their home-state president, Barack Obama, on the ballot. The party picked up House seats in both of those cycles.
But next year, the gubernatorial race will top the ticket and turnout will filter down to competitive House races. What’s more, Republicans are targeting the gubernatorial race as well as several competitive House districts occupied by Democrats.
Accordingly, the fate of several newly elected, vulnerable House Democrats — such as Bustos, Foster and freshman Rep. Brad Schneider — could depend on their gubernatorial nominee.
For some members, that’s all the more reason to stay out of the race.
“These guys, a lot of them have their own challenges to worry about between the 10th and the 12th and the 17th, among other districts,” Illinois Democratic pollster Jason McGrath said. “You’re looking at a lot of people who are trying to make sure that they’re in a good position to return to Congress themselves.”
Still, their silence is unique given how closely some of these members have worked with the candidates. In addition to Duckworth, Daley has previously contributed to the campaigns of Bustos and Quigley. In 2010, Davis and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez backed Quinn’s gubernatorial bid.
Neither Quinn’s nor Daley’s campaign returned a request for comment on whether they are courting the endorsements of members of the delegation.
“I think you’re going to see, potentially more so than any other race in any other election cycle, more of the Illinois elected officials staying on the sidelines,” Liston said.