A common and somewhat mean-spirited quip that often snakes through election cycle circles is whether someone just got up that morning and decided er or she would run for __________(fill in the blank). It is generally an indication that the candidate is defying political logic, and isn’t displaying any traits of having thought through what lies ahead. It seems to happen at every level – municipal, state and even national politics. The current Illinois gubernatorial race is offering us a stable of candidates who fit the bill, but the show horse in that herd is Chris Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy, a Boston native, who ironically turns 54 next month on Independence Day, elicited an extremely favorable reaction late last year when it became obvious he planned to run to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner. The conventional wisdom was the Kennedy name and legacy would be a magnet for Democrats and disgruntled members of the G.O.P. The buzz was the former Merchandise Mart C.E.O. would be anointed as Mr. Rauner’s chief opponent. A Dem primary just would be a formality.
Then an odd thing happened-Mr. Kennedy began campaigning and his popularity as a candidate started what looks like will amount to a political death spiral. Mr. Kennedy’s campaign style is a bit more personable than a Macy’s mannequin. Instead of running a campaign that connects with everyday voters, his style is far more erudite and should appeal to the Oak Park, Champaign, and Evanston voters-the three Illinois cities with the most people holding Ph.D. degrees http://www.online-phd-programs.org/50-u-s-cities-with-the-most-doctoral-degree-holders/ .He wants us to understand that he is the smartest guy in the room, and answering questions with a simple yes or no is beneath him. The irony is Mr. Rauner is accused of having the same smartest-in-the-room trait.
When JB Pritzker of Hyatt Hotel fame decided to end his near 20-year hiatus from politics and get in the race as a Dem, the gleam on the Kennedy star dimmed even more. As stiff and measured as Mr. Kennedy, is Mr. Pritzker is overstuffed with congeniality, charm, and a never-met-a-stranger drive to campaigning. Although the Pritzker name in Illinois is probably as recognizable as Kennedy’s is in the Northeast; Mr. Pritzker hopped on the campaign bus and headed into parts of Chicago that rarely get to see a candidate for governor this early in the race. Mr. Kennedy what appeared to be very calculated and limited his appearances; Mr. Pritzker cracked open the war chest and began a broadcast blitzkrieg that put his name and mug on the airwaves in no timid way. Meanwhile, back at the Kennedy camp, strategists were holding off on media buys, toiling under the misconception the Kennedy name and aura had enough name recognition, What a mistake.
There is a significant voting bloc in the state who are too young to have any memory of Mr. Kennedy’s illustrious father, Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, who was murdered in 1968, or Bobby’s legendary brother, former President John F. Kennedy. By relying on the legacy of the Kennedy brand, the candidate may as well be asking a couple of million voters to cast a ballot for some from the history books whom they have no recollection of, Mr. Kennedy’s team is taking a lot for granted. Given that he announced long before Mr. Pritzker, he should be leading the media game rather than Mr. Pritizker.
In a recent interview with WBEZ, Mr. Kennedy struggled with the question of why he wanted to be governor. His answer entailed how long he has lived here, loving the state and if he is lucky to have grandchildren he wants them here so he can be close to them. His reply was void of fixing the state’s ills, innovative programs, or visionary plans to improve the quality of life for everyone.
During the same interview, when asked about his position on legalizing marijuana in Illinois, Candidate Kennedy somehow managed to wrap the nation’s opioid epidemic around his answer. Ultimately, he said he rely on science and medical professionals to decide whether pot should be legalized,
The WBEZ host, Tony Sarabia, game Mr. Kennedy more than sufficient time to voice how he as governor would lead the state. Rather than presenting a vision, Mr. Kennedy opted to repeatedly blast Mr. Rauner. Verbally punching an already unpopular governor certainly seemed like a blown opportunity and the mistake of a rookie who doesn’t understand campaigning. If he expects to be the last man standing to challenge Gov. Rauner next year, he is going to have to put in a lot more work and quicken the pace; otherwise, voters will be asking “did he just get up one morning and decide to run?”