For a moment, let’s flash back to a poll I commissioned last month.
The Aug. 13 Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll surveyed 1,102 likely Republican primary voters.
The poll found that 74 percent of Republicans wanted GOP gubernatorial candidates to choose a running mate who was “more conservative” than the candidates themselves. An additional 18 percent said ideology made no difference, and a mere 7 percent said they wanted a more liberal running mate.
The poll found that 73 percent of Republican women and 75 percent of men wanted a more conservative running mate. Seventy-nine percent of seniors, who tend to dominate GOP primaries, wanted a more rightward pick. Seventy-seven percent of collar county Republicans, 73 percent of suburban Cook and Downstate Republicans and 69 percent of Chicago Republicans wanted the candidates to look to their right when picking their lieutenant governor candidates.
As you probably already know, Illinois changed its laws on running mates. Before, lieutenant governor candidates ran independently in primaries. Now candidates for governor are required to choose a running mate before they begin circulating nominating petitions.
Fast-forward to today. So far, anyway, the gubernatorial candidate who has by far heeded this poll result the most is state Sen. Bill Brady, who was, socially anyway, the most conservative candidate in the race to begin with.
Brady did not try at all to “soften” his ideological stances by picking a more moderate candidate. Unlike state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who chose a sitting state representative as his running mate, Brady went outside the state party establishment and selected a former suburban mayor of a wealthy small town named Maria Rodriguez. She has spent the past few years running a far-right statewide tea party-affiliated organization for Adam Andrzejewski, who wasn’t a particularly great statewide candidate in 2010, but did build a heck of a large list of devoted tea party activists, partly because of his executive director Rodriguez.
Sen. Brady was outspent by more than 7-1 by Andy McKenna in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and almost 3-1 by Sen. Dillard. Despite some polling that showed McKenna leading near the end, the previously unknown’s support turned out to be paper thin and he dropped like a rock in the last few days as the election became “real” to voters. Dillard, for his part, was hurt badly in the closing days by McKenna’s attacks on him for cutting a TV ad for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
But nobody so much as touched Brady, and Republican primary voters turned to him at almost literally the last minute. The only poll I know of which caught Brady’s late surge was a privately commissioned We Ask America poll taken the weekend before the primary election. Brady hadn’t been tainted by hardcore attacks and he was ideologically “pure” enough for GOP primary voters, so he ended up being the default choice. Chicago political reporters, taken completely by surprise, raced down I-55 to Bloomington on primary night to cover Brady’s victory rally.
Despite Dillard’s rightward lurch since losing that 2010 primary, Brady is still likely considered the more “authentic” conservative. And his choice of an outsider tea party leader as a running mate will almost certainly help him lock down the right side of the party.
The difference between now and then, of course, is that Brady won the 2010 primary and he has to be taken seriously by the other candidates. He won’t get a pass between now and March by the big-spending Bruce Rauner or by Dillard and Treasurer Dan Rutherford. This is why Brady’s well-known inability – even reluctance – to raise big money could hurt him badly.
But the idea for 2014 is still the same as 2010. Stay to the right, stay focused on painting his opponents as being far to his own left, pick a running mate who bolsters his conservative credentials and who will “keep him honest,” and try to make the electorate believe that he’s the most “electable” Republican because he’s been there before and has learned how to do it.
I personally never make predictions. The latest polling had Brady leading the pack, although the top three (Brady, Rutherford, Rauner) were all bunched up within seven points of each other. What I will say is that Brady appears to have a plan that deals with Republican primary voters as they are and it could very well work. More money would help, however.
• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.