(WGN-AM)- Illinois' wild, seemingly non-stop political season opens a new chapter Tuesday as hundreds of candidates for federal, state and county offices in next year's elections begin gathering voter signatures to appear on the Feb. 2 primary ballot.
It is the launch of a scramble for attention in an election like no other. There's an open race for the U.S. Senate seat that was clouded by scandal after Barack Obama left it for the White House. And there's the election of a governor, a job held by unelected incumbent Pat Quinn, who moved to the top post when Rod Blagojevich was ousted by lawmakers in January.
Cook County Board president and DuPage County Board chairman. Elections also will be held in all 118 state House districts and 21 of 59 state Senate districts.
"It makes our job in getting the message across a little more challenging," said state Sen. Dan Cronin of Elmhurst, the DuPage County Republican chairman who is among several candidates who have announced or are considering a bid for the GOP nomination to head the County Board. "It's absolutely a much more grass-roots-driven effort."
The state has been in constant political turbulence since November's election of Obama as president. That was followed a month later by Blagojevich's arrest, the disgraced governor's controversial appointment of Democrat Roland Burris to Obama's seat, calls that faded for a special U.S. Senate election, the first impeachment trial of an Illinois governor, Quinn's installation to the state's top job, his unsuccessful call for an income-tax increase and a lengthy state budget impasse.
The Illinois primary is the earliest in the nation, and so is its filing process. Candidates begin filing petitions Oct. 26, effectively setting the stage for a shortened 14-week campaign season shoehorned around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays. Several candidates have decided to formally declare for office Tuesday, the first day their volunteers can circulate candidacy petitions.
The early filing date also gives members of the Illinois legislature a look at their opponents, gauging their potential strength before they take another look at casting a politically tricky vote for an income-tax increase to shore up the shaky state budget.
The campaign season is accelerated this time as a result of a change in Illinois election law that moved the primary elections up from March to February to help favorite son Obama's Democratic presidential bid. While other states opted to leave their non-presidential-year primaries later in the calendar, Illinois made the move permanent for its statewide primary.
Alexi Giannoulias, the first-term state treasurer, is the lone Democrat to formally announce for the Senate seat being vacated by Burris, though others may enter the race. Five-term North Shore U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park is the biggest Republican contender for the Senate among those who have announced their candidacies. Others have expressed an interest, citing conservative dissatisfaction with Kirk's social moderation and his recent vote for Obama-backed carbon emissions restrictions.
The most frenetic congressional race is expected in the North Shore's 10th District for Kirk's seat. So far, three Democrats have entered the race: state Sen. Michael Boland of Grayslake, state Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston and twice-defeated Dan Seals. Several Republicans also are evaluating a run.
In the race for governor, no Democrats have formally announced, though Quinn says he's running and three-term Comptroller Dan Hynes has told leading Democrats he will make the race. Other Democrats also are considering a bid.
On the Republican side, three state senators -- Bill Brady of Bloomington, Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and Matt Murphy of Palatine -- have announced for the nomination for governor along with DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. Other Republicans include political operative and pundit Dan Proft and transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski.
Among down-ballot races, Democrats in Cook County are anticipating a heated primary for the County Board presidency amid the turmoil surrounding incumbent Todd Stroger's leadership and dissatisfaction over the sales-tax increase imposed on his watch. Stroger is seeking re-election, but several Democrats have already announced to challenge him, including Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown and Terrence O'Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
(The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story)
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