CHICAGO – A day after dropping out of the 2014 race for Illinois governor, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley dismissed any notion Tuesday that he couldn't have defeated Gov. Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary.
Daley said he believed he could continue to raise the funds and had the statewide support, including in downstate Illinois where the family name of the son and brother of two longtime Chicago mayors may not play out well.
"As a part of a family that has public service in its blood and a family of which I am extremely proud, I've always been motivated as each of them to serve," he told reporters Tuesday as his voice crackled. "This race was a very doable race for me."
He was less clear about his reasons for dropping out. He only said there was an "enormity" to being a candidate he didn't realize previously and that Illinois needs a strong leader to help solve its monstrous financial problems — including the nation's worst-funded pension system.
"I've lost sleep ... and struggling over the last couple weeks over whether or not what's needed I can provide over a long period," he said. "It's not about a campaign of six months or 14 months. It really is about a minimum of five to nine years to begin to straighten out this state."
Daley's exit leaves no major Democratic challenger to Quinn in next year's primary. Quinn's lone remaining opponent for the Democratic nomination was Tio Hardiman, the former director of a Chicago anti-violence advocacy group, CeaseFire. He said he is staying in the race, but acknowledged that he lacks the governor's name recognition and resources.
Quinn didn't publicly comment on Daley's withdrawal, but his campaign issued a statement late Monday saying a "divisive primary would have only helped Republicans who want to take this state backwards and undo the important progress we have made."
"He's got an open road now," said political analyst Thom Serafin, speaking of Quinn. "He can take his time in making decisions for his campaign, and he has more time to focus on governing the state."
Daley, 65, said Tuesday he would audit the campaign funds he has raised — roughly $800,000 by the end of June — and return donations.
It would have been his first elected office, though he served as a trusted adviser to two presidents, first as Bill Clinton's commerce secretary and then as Barack Obama's chief of staff after Rahm Emanuel left the post to make a successful run to succeed Richard M. Daley as Chicago mayor. He had flirted with the idea of running for governor before, but this was the furthest he had ventured into an actual campaign.
Serafin called Daley's choice an "unbelievable turn of events for Quinn."
Daley's decision, which was first reported by the Chicago Tribune, comes less than four months after he said he would challenge Quinn and aggressively criticized the governor for his handling of the state's nearly $100 billion public pension shortfall and other issues. Although Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago toyed with the idea of running, Daley was the only prominent Democrat to officially challenge Quinn.
A successful attorney and businessman, Daley had begun building a campaign on his name recognition, a burst of fundraising, big name supporters and several statewide tours, though his appeal outside Chicago was in question. He had promised campaign finance reform and new ways to solve the pension crisis and Illinois' enormous backlog of unpaid bills.
Daley and Quinn had begun to face off directly and personally in recent weeks.
Last week the governor called Daley a "millionaire banker" who "helped drive the American economy into a ditch and created the Great Recession. We don't particularly need advice from people who created the mess in the first place."
Daley also didn't miss a chance to take a dig at the governor in his parting statement, saying he didn't think Quinn could win the 2014 election. He wouldn't say if he thought there was another Democrat who would emerge to overtake Quinn.
Daley's move comes just days before Illinois Democratic leaders were expected to meet in Springfield to discuss slating party candidates for statewide office. An association of the state's Democratic party chairman had recently endorsed Quinn along with the Cook County Democratic Party, which has historic ties to the Daley family. But Daley said a candidate could still win without the endorsements.
The four Republicans in the race are state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.
Rauner reacted to Daley's decision by stressing that he was now the only candidate in the race, for either party, who did not have ties to Illinois state government.
"I'm the only candidate able to offer a clean break from the failed policies coming out of Springfield," Rauner said.