Illinois Democrats see changes in convention delegation - Chicago Tribune
Four years ago, an emotional Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. led a Democratic National Convention hugfest of state party leaders whose incessant feuding threatened to distract from Barack Obama's march to the presidency in Illinois.
But as the state's 215 Democratic delegates began arriving at their two hotels in downtown Charlotte to help renominate the home-state president, there are several noticeable absences this time around, including three politicians involved in all that hugging.
Gone is former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, arrested only months after the last convention and eventually sent to prison on federal corruption charges. Also no longer on the scene is Richard Daley, who traditionally played the role of delegation chairman, after he opted not to seek another term as Chicago mayor.
And Jackson is listed as doubtful for this week's convention after spending the summer off the job and the campaign trail to seek treatment for depression and a gastrointestinal disorder, most recently at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
To be sure, there will be plenty of familiar faces in the state's delegation. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the powerful Southwest Side lawmaker who also leads the state Democratic Party, will be chairman of the state's delegation.
"My job as state party chair and chair of the delegation is try to maintain some sense of order and peace," Madigan said, acknowledging the bickering and battling egos of past Democratic get-togethers.
With Obama's renomination a foregone conclusion, it is the job of Madigan, a master political strategist who has served as speaker for all but two of the past 29 years, to translate the president's support at home into down-ballot victories.
"We want to take the issues between Obama and (Mitt) Romney and work that in the congressional elections and the legislative elections," Madigan said.
"I think what happens between Obama and Romney is going to be a plus for Democrats in Illinois. It's not that Obama will be in Illinois a great deal. It's not that he's going to be spending a lot of money in Illinois. It's just that the issue differences between Obama and Romney will be reported in Illinois," he said.
In 2008, the inaugural Obama presidential campaign was so fearful of being associated with the tainted Blagojevich that it denied him a speaking role. This year's Obama-orchestrated convention will feature speeches by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth.
Unlike the Republican convention, where no Illinoisans addressed delegates, Duckworth is making her second consecutive appearance before the Democratic convention audience. A second-time candidate for Congress, Duckworth is challenging tea party-icon freshman Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in a northwest suburban district drawn for her by Democrats. Walsh chose not to attend the GOP convention.
Duckworth, a former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Obama administration, is among several prominent women given a speaking role. Obama and Democrats are attempting to take advantage of the controversy over Missouri Republican Senate nominee Rep. Todd Akin's remark that victims of "legitimate rape" have an internal body mechanism to prevent pregnancy.
Democrats have sought to use the comments to reheat their allegations that Republicans are waging a "war on women."
"There are a handful of events that are going to happen (until) the election that are going to have an impact on enthusiasm," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the state's senior senator and the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said of polls showing GOP voters more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats. "I think what happened in Missouri is going to fire up a lot of people on our side."
Emanuel is expected to talk to delegates about his tenure as Obama's first White House chief of staff and the president's thought processes.
Durbin, who introduced Obama as the party's presidential nominee four years ago, is expected to play a surrogate role at the convention, visiting various state delegations to rally behind the president.
Still, the 67-year-old senator acknowledges that in an era of advanced digital communications and reduced national broadcast network media coverage, the time for political conventions may have come and gone.
"I think they're losing their relevance when you don't have a real contest at the convention. I don't think it has the impact on the American public it once had," Durbin said.
"All the suspense is gone. I don't think anyone hangs on the delivery of the platform, the wording of it. I chaired the platform committee at two conventions and nobody even noticed. It really is the most unread document in American political history," he said. "There isn't much there in the way of excitement. You get to see some old friends and have a little fun together, but no major decisions are being made." email@example.com Twitter @rap30