Could Harold draw a primary opponent?

Candidates line up to replace Madigan

ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- Attorney General Lisa Madigan's surprise decision to step down from her post at the end of her fourth consecutive term invited a swarm of speculation about potential newcomers to the 2018 election as politicians jockey for a chance to replace her. 

Currently, Republican Erika Harold is the only declared candidate, but that is expected to change very quickly.

"It is a really high-visibility office with a lot of potential to be a stepping stone in addition to making a difference in terms of the issues within the state," said Kent Redfield, political science professor at University of Illinois-Springfield. 

The attorney general has broad power to craft his or her own agenda and pursue ambitions untethered from much of the political gridlock consuming the legislature. The departure of the state's longest-tenured incumbent and first female attorney general in state history has opened a door for some of Springfield's most ambitious lawmakers to consider a career change. 

State Senator Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, responded quickly to Madigan's announcement Friday, telling reporters he was seriously considering a bid to become the state's top lawyer. Raoul was a prosecuting attorney for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office before he was appointed to fill President Obama's former seat upon his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. 

Outgoing State Representative Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Chicago's northern suburbs, is already circulating petitions in preparation for a primary contest to replace Madigan as the Democratic nominee. House Speaker Michael Madigan appointed Nekritz as one of four Assistant Majority Leaders. The University of Michigan graduate is supporting State Senator Daniel Biss' campaign for governor.  

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is considered a serious contender among Democratic candidates as well. Dart was also a Cook County prosecutor before his 1991 appointment to the Senate. He served another decade in the House before eventually running an unsuccessful statewide campaign for treasurer. 

Candidates have until December 4 to file their petitions ahead of a March 2018 primary. 

Harold, a Harvard law graduate and 2003 Miss America winner, launched her campaign seeking to topple Madigan.  

"There have been some significant examples of patronage corruption scandals where the attorney general had the power to be able to investigate using either investigative power or subpoena power and didn't do so," Harold said ahead of a Governor's Day rally at the state fairgrounds last month. 

Her campaign insists the message and strategy will not change, but the fact remains the 2018 statewide ballot will no longer include anyone named Madigan. That shakeup has Republican insiders wondering if someone else should challenge Harold in a primary contest. 

State Senator Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, practices law at Meyer Capel, the same law firm which employs Harold. 

Barickman shot down rumors he could run for the attorney general spot, saying, "Erika [Harold] is uniquely positioned in that she is electable statewide and she has great credentials for serving as Illinois' top attorney. She'll be fine if she's primaried, but I'm encouraging Republicans to rally around her now."

Another prominent Republican attorney, Kirk Dillard, halfway sidestepped direct questions if he might run for the opening. 

"I'm enjoying overseeing mass transit in Chicagoland where we move over two million riders daily and watching my teenage children grow up," Dillard said.

The former state senator and chairman of the DuPage County Republican Party now oversees the Regional Transportation Authority. He's also a partner at Locke Lord Law Firm.

"Harold's chances are excellent," Dillard said. "She is intelligent, personable and right out of central casting. She will give Democrats fits with her profile. [She] should be given a lot of deference by others because she stood up to run before (emphasis his) Lisa Madigan chose not to run for reelection. It is also important for the Republicans to put forth a balanced geographic ticket." 

While some Republicans are publicly supporting Harold, others are privately wondering if House Minority Leader Jim Durkin could run for the job. Durkin did not respond to questions about the race. 

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