PoliticsBy ROBERT KIECKHEFER
Is slate making passe?
IF slate making -- formal or informal — is designed to avoid primary fights and to give party leaders control over their general election tickets, the process worked to perfection this year. But if the goal is to put together the ticket best able to win in November, some question marks hover at the end of the political sentence.
Clearly, the 1982 primary will go down in history as one of Illinois' most boring. With the exception of the Republican race for lieutenant governor, there will be no serious contests.
On the Republican side, Gov. James R. Thompson used muscle when he felt it was important and ducked judiciously when he felt it wasn't. As a result, Bernie Carey won't challenge Atty. Gen. Tyrone Fahner. And, despite some initial interest, Secy, of State Jim Edgar won't have any primary opposition of note, either.
The early indications are that Thompson won't get overtly involved in the race for the treasurer's nomination between Peoria businessman John Dailey and former House Speaker W. Robert Blair. Although Dailey has been close to Thompson, it's clear that Blair could cause some havoc if Thompson weighed in against him. With an extensive team already in the field, the governor apparently felt there wasn't any need to provoke a potentially dangerous opponent with a reputation for ruthless infighting.
On the Democratic side of the coin, the outcome of the more formal slate making was no less decisive.
Former Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III, starting ahead and without significant opposition within the party power structure, blew away the competition for the gubernatorial nod. He carried Grace Mary Stern, and if sources in both camps are to be believed, he also engineered Neil Hartigan's slating for attorney general.
In the process, the Stevenson band wagon got the best of such heavy weights as former Gov. Daniel Walker, Chicago Alderman Martin Oberman and the man who gave Churck Percy a run for his money a few years ago Alex Seith.
Walker, who pledged not to run if someone else won slating (how times change!), backed out of the race before the first slate making session. Seith lowered his sights from governor to attorney general to also-ran.
By the time slate making was done, the only real contest left for the Democrats was for attorney general, with Oberman and Rep. Daniel Pierce vowing to continue the fight into the primary. But both succumbed to pressure — financial and organizational — and dropped out of the race within weeks. So we are left with relatively "agreed" slates of candidates and we're denied the chance to vote in a meaningful primary. But what if nature had been allowed to take its course?
If there had been no slate making for governor, Walker probably would have run against Stevenson in the primary. It's clear Walker had the itch to be involved again. The temptation is to say that Walker failed to generate much public interest, that his time has passed, and that Stevenson would have beaten him easily. But those who watched Walker 10 years ago will never leap to that conclusion. Walker is one of the best campaigners in modern Illinois history, and he would have been no pushover for a man who distains hoopla and gimmicks as much as Stevenson.
If he had run against Stevenson is the primary and won, Walker would have been a very different candidate than Stevenson in the general election Thompson runs for another term largely on his "good guy" image plus a record of no major foul-ups. Stevenson will counter with a program to lead the state into the 21st century, an image that will not particularly challenge Thompson's chosen posture.
Walker, on the other hand, would have pushed the governor, trying at every turn to break his public image. In this era when candidacies are shaped by vague, TV-generated impressions, the temptation is to say the party might have been better off with Walker.
And there's another factor. Stevenson couldn't have been slated without the acquiescence of Chicago Mayor Jane M. Byrne. But he did the trick, in fact, without her acctive support. As a
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result, she has no stake in his candidacy.
The lieutenant governor's race, the only one left "unslated," will be the focus of attention as Sen. Don Totten squares off against Speaker George Ryan. The GOP will generate a lot of ink from this race — perhaps best illustrating the plus side of a good, hot primary fight. No matter which candidate wins, his name probably will be better known than Mrs. Stern's — even allowing for her ability, flare and charisma.
The offices of attorney general and secretary of state should have been tempting targets for the Democrats to attack the Thompson "slate" most effectively. The governor appointed both Fahner and Edgar and swore them to electoral fealty before they took office. But by running consensus slated candidates for each post, the Democrats give up some of that advantage.
If Jerry Cosentino had even some minimal primary opposition, he could say he was the people's choice for secretary of state, while Edgar was the anointed GOP entry.
For attorney general, the Democrats' loss is even more severe. The last-minute, rather heavy-handed slating of Hartigan — a good man and an attractive candidate — blunts the fact of Farmer's close association with Thompson and leaves voters wondering how candidates can pop out of the woodwork at the last minute and still win slating.
And if you believe the polling done for Seith, the most attractive candidate statewide was Oberman, so the "unity" move may be costly in the fall.
Down the line, is Jim Donnewald the best downstate candidate? Maybe so. But he does have those Chicago connections. And they will weigh heavily on downstate voters who might have preferred to make their own choice.
The bottom line?
The people who attended slate making had white hair, they were the party elders — Mike Howlett, Jack Touhy and their cronies. But the party organization doesn't win major offices anymore. What wins elections is image.
And image is shaped by the news media and, much more importantly, by public perception.
Perhaps, in that environment, slate making is passe — whether it be the formal version of the Democrats or the informal version Thompson practiced (rest of text cut off)
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