Morning Digest: Lori Lightfoot remains the clear favorite in Chicago’s soon-approaching mayoral race

Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Chicago, IL Mayor: Chicago’s April 2 mayoral election is coming up quickly, and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot remains the heavy favorite to defeat Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who spent much of the race as the frontrunner. A Lightfoot victory would make Chicago the largest city in America to ever elect a gay mayor.

While Lightfoot only led Preckwinkle 18-16 in the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary, the few polls we’ve seen have found her far ahead and she’s also picked up the lion’s share of endorsements over the last month. Preckwinkle also stopped advertising on TV just as early voting began, which is perhaps the biggest sign that the general election is going poorly for her. But just how did things get to be so bleak for Preckwinkle?

Chicago Magazine‘s Edward McClelland and the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Fran Spielman each take a look at the contest. McClelland writes that Lightfoot is consolidating support from both progressive voters in the Lakefront and more conservative “white ethnics from the neighborhoods on Chicago’s fringes,” two groups that often don’t see eye to eye in city politics. However, animosity towards Preckwinkle, who is one of the more high-profile politicians in local politics, helps explain this unusual coalition.

Preckwinkle serves as chair of the Cook County Democratic Primary, an important part of the old Chicago political machine that Lakefront leaders and voters often vigorously oppose. It doesn’t help that Preckwinkle has attracted plenty of scrutiny since the year began over her ties to Alderman Ed Burke, a longtime member of the machine who was indicted for corruption at the start of the year.

At the same time, McClelland writes that plenty of conservative “law and order” voters also dislike Preckwinkle for her ties to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has often clashed with the police and who is often caricatured as a “cop hater.” An unnamed political consultant who isn’t affiliated with either campaign also tells Spielman that Preckwinkle has struggled in the predominantly black South Side because of lingering anger with her support for the soda tax, which she pushed through in 2017 but was soon repealed.

Lightfoot, by contrast, is running for elected office for the first time and doesn’t have a long record to attack. McClelland writes that she’s appealed to progressives by joining them in denouncing the machine, and that conservative voters “like her because they believe that as a former president of the Police Board, she’ll be sympathetic to first responders.” Spielman also writes that when the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and two aldermen who used to be firefighters backed Lightfoot, it acted as “a signal to white ethnic voters on the Northwest Side to support Lightfoot.”

Money has been a big issue for Preckwinkle. Spielman writes that, while she was hoping to consolidate labor support during the general election, she got some bad news quickly when the Chicago Federation of Labor announced that they would remain neutral. She continues by writing that this encouraged trade unions that had supported state Comptroller Susana Mendoza in the primary to endorse and contribute to Lightfoot, as well as the firefighters’ union.

By contrast, Preckwinkle’s major donors appear to have decided that she’s no longer a good investment. The Chicago Tribune’s Juan Perez wrote on March 19 that, while the local SIEU gave Preckwinkle $2.42 million for the primary, they’d only contributed $878,000 for round two. Of that amount, $750,000 was “reported the day after the first election and cashed beforehand,” so the SEIU hasn’t exactly been spending much to boost Preckwinkle for round two.

A trio of unaligned strategists, all of whom went unnamed, also told Spielman that Preckwinkle’s strategy has only hurt her since the primary ended last month. Preckwinkle had been on the receiving end of plenty of attacks and scrutiny for months while Lightfoot, who had languished in the single digits for most of the primary, had yet to attract much negative attention. Preckwinkle needed to fix that, but her early attacks on Lightfoot in the general election might have been the wrong approach.

Preckwinkle quickly went up with a negative ad that tried to portray Lightfoot as a “wealthy corporate lawyer” who was close to Republicans and had “overruled investigators to justify police shootings.” However, one strategist told Spielman that this ad “was a kitchen sink ad that was all over the place. Spread too thin,” and, “It wasn’t pointed enough in what they were trying to say.”

The days after the primary may have been Preckwinkle’s only opportunity to define Lightfoot while she still had the resources to do so. Indeed, Politico writes that, in the first two weeks after the primary, Preckwinkle outspent Lightfoot $600,000 to $450,000. However, in the week of March 10, Lightfoot outspent Preckwinkle $450,000 to $50,000, and the county board president was off the air altogether in the following week.

Preckwinkle also attracted negative attention at a debate when she was asked to say one thing she admired about her opponent and responded that she credited Lightfoot for being “open and honest about her LGBTQ orientation.” Lightfoot and her allies denounced the comment, with Lightfoot declaring, “I can only hope that she wasn’t blowing some kind of dog whistle,” and, “It almost doesn’t matter what the intent was. The effect was to some―I found out about it from folks who heard it that way.”

Preckwinkle insisted this was a sincere compliment, but whatever her intentions were, the controversy seems to have cost her precious days she couldn’t afford to lose.

Senate

AL-Sen: The radical anti-tax Club for Growth has been loudly touting Rep. Mo Brooks as a potential GOP candidate against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and he seems a bit more interested than he did a month ago.

Brooks told AL.com‘s Paul Gattis that the Senate Conservatives Fund, which often boosts anti-establishment candidates in GOP primaries, has “pledged, so far, $3.7 million in support” if he runs. The congressman still said that he needs to see a bit more before he runs, declaring that he has been “considering the polling data and the strong offers of financial support but so far, they have not been sufficient to persuade me to run for the Senate,” but adding, “I haven’t made a final decision.”

Last month, Brooks said that “[i]t would take some kind of seismic event” to get him in the contest, but right now at least, he seems interested in running even if Poseidon hasn’t launched an earthquake off the coast of Mobile that registers on the Richter scale as “Mo Brooks for Senate.” There’s still no word when Brooks expects to decide, though Gattis writes that “there is no signal from the Huntsville Republican congressman that he plans to join the race any time soon.”

TN-Sen: Former Gov. Bill Haslam has been mulling running here since GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander announced in December that he would retire, and Politico reports that Mike Pence encouraged him to jump in at a recent meeting at the White House. While Haslam said earlier this year that he would decide “probably sometime in March,” Politico writes that he “will decide sometime in the next month.”

House

PA-08: Wealthy banker John Chrin, who lost to Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright by a 55-45 margin last year, has filed new paperwork with the FEC that could presage a rematch, though he has not yet spoken publicly about his intentions.

Pennsylvania’s 8th, located in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region, voted for Donald Trump by a 53-44 margin, a big swing from Barack Obama’s 55-43 win there in 2012 and the main reason Republicans thought they might have a shot at this seat in 2018. That shift also made Cartwright one of just 13 Democrats to represent a red district prior to the midterms.

Now, though, following last year’s blue wave, 31 Democrats sit in districts Trump won, so Cartwright may no longer be as compelling a target. And Chrin, who self-funded almost $1.7 million, doesn’t really have the sort of background that’s in-tune with a heavily working-class area like this one: He spent decades at the Wall Street firm of JPMorgan Chase and is worth as much as $86 million. Republicans may therefore look to alternative recruits for 2020.

Mayoral

Dallas, TX Mayor: On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton endorsed Regina Montoya, an attorney who served as director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Clinton administration. Montoya, who also has the support of EMILY’s List, is one of several candidates competing in the May 4 nonpartisan primary.

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