History hangs over Cook County state’s attorney’s race – offering challenges to both Kim Foxx and Pat O’Brien


Kim Foxx needs Donald Trump.

And Pat O’Brien is going to need Brendan Reilly.

For the next few days anyway.

That’s because Foxx’s best shot at re-election as Cook County state’s attorney rests on a blue tidal wave of Democrats eager to dump Trump.

And Republican challenger O’Brien’s best chance to deny Foxx a second term requires him to channel some of that wave in his direction, winning over Democrats — possibly with help from his new ally, Ald. Reilly (42nd).

“All politics is local,” as the late House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill famously said. But history suggests that Cook County voters generally prefer having the same party in the White House and at 26th and California.

Signaling potential trouble for Foxx, though, history also clearly demonstrates Cook County voters have no problem dumping incumbent prosecutors of either party.

Eight of the 12 Cook County state’s attorneys who have held office in the last 70 years eventually were beaten in re-election bids — five of them in November elections held in presidential years.

Compare that to Chicago mayors. During that same period, only four of the city’s 10 mayors were rejected by voters.

Working in Foxx’s favor — and against O’Brien’s — every one of those five state’s attorneys who lost in November in presidential years belonged to the opposite party of the White House contender who carried Cook County.

In 1972, Democratic State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan lost his re-election bid largely because African American voters were outraged by the 1969 raid state’s attorney police conducted on the Black Panther Party’s West Side headquarters that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Cook County went for Republican President Richard M. Nixon over Democrat George McGovern that year, along with 100 of the state’s other 101 counties and much of the nation.

Eight years later, Carey lost his bid for a third term, even though fellow Republican Ronald Reagan won the White House. But Cook County was consistent, voting for Democrats in both races — Richard M. Daley for state’s attorney and incumbent Jimmy Carter for president — one of only three Illinois counties Carter carried.

Cook County state’s attorneys defeated in the past 70 years. All lost in November during presidential election years unless otherwise noted.

Cook County state’s attorneys defeated in the past 70 years. All lost in November during presidential election years unless otherwise noted. Clockwise from top left: Democrat John S. Boyle, 1948-1952 (lost in primary); Democrat John Gutknecht, 1952-1956; Republican Benjamin Adamowski. 1956-1960; Republican Bernard Carey, 1972-1980; Democrat Anita Alvarez, 2008-2016 (lost in primary); Republican Jack O’Malley, 1990-1996; Democrat Cecil A. Partee, 1989-1990 (lost in special election in non-presidential year); Democrat Edward V. Hanrahan, 1968-1972.

This year, the shadow of the presidential race is obvious.

While Foxx touts her record on public safety and criminal justice reform, she clearly is pinning her hopes on anti-Trump voters. Notice how the Democratic prosecutor spends more time trash-talking the guy in the White House than pitching former Vice President Joe Biden.

The challenge for O’Brien is to convince enough of those anti-Trump Democrats and independents to channel some of their anger toward Foxx. The former circuit judge is pretty strictly following the president’s law-and-order strategy. That could sway some Cook County voters after a summer plagued by televised scenes of looting and a rise in the number of killings.

That’s where Reilly comes in. A Biden delegate and self-described “proud member of the Democratic Party,” the 42nd Ward alderman endorsed O’Brien this past week, asserting that, under Foxx, the city will see “lawlessness, more violence, more homicides and more victims.”

O’Brien benefits from the elimination of one-punch straight-party voting in 1997. Before then, voters could choose all of a party’s candidates with a single vote. Foxx benefits from the county’s increasing tilt to the left over the years.

Republican state’s attorney candidate Pat O’Brien (from left), Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.

Republican state’s attorney candidate Pat O’Brien (from left), Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.
Pat Nabong /Sun-Times file, Facebook.

No matter who wins the White House this year, Cook County is expected to come out heavily for Biden.

Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the county, getting 1,158,659 more votes than Trump. Foxx’s winning plurality over Republican Christopher Pfannkuche that year was 265,243 votes fewer than Clinton’s over Trump.

O’Brien will need to persuade a lot more voters to split their tickets than Pfannkuche did.

Not many polls have been taken. One conducted for the Cook County Republican Party on Oct. 18 showed Foxx leading O’Brien, 47.1% to 40.6% with 9.8% still undecided. That’s tighter than two previous party polls.

But polls are far from foolproof — in any election.

Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Or former Republican Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley, who enjoyed an overwhelming lead in pre-election polls in 1996 but wound up conceding to Democratic challenger Dick Devine with one of the most memorable opening lines of a concession speech.

“Don’t believe those polls,” O’Malley told stunned supporters.

O’Malley was the last Republican state’s attorney, until his defeat nearly a quarter of a century ago, largely because of the Democrats’ successful “Punch 10” campaign, which led GOP legislators to ban straight-party voting.

The challenge for O’Brien is to make history, becoming the first challenger in at least 70 years to beat an incumbent state’s attorney of the same party as the presidential contender expected to carry the county.

Foxx’s challenge is to not become history.

via Chicago Sun-Times

October 30, 2020 at 07:00AM

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