Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Delegates Set Their Sights on 1998 Democrats Look to Recapture State Offices

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Delegates Set Their Sights on 1998 Democrats Look to Recapture State Offices

Article excerpt

THE FOCUS might appear to be Washington, 1996. But for Illinois delegates to this week's Democratic National Convention, an important part of the work is about Springfield, 1998.

Behind their smiles is a quiet anxiety over party survival in a state wh ere Republicans hold every executive office in the capital and both chambers of the legislature.

The Illinois Democrats won't solve their problems in Chicago's United Center, gleaming under television lights for the perfunctory chore of nominating President Bill Clinton again. But they may begin to find answers over food or drinks in the swank Drake Hotel - the delegation's home.

In sports, this will be a rebuilding year.

Relationships forged this week will influence who gets nominated for what in 1998. Figure on Neil Hartigan, the former attorney general who already proclaimed his candidacy for governor, to put himself out front. Likewise for U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, vice chair of the convention, who will work to cement some fractured relationships that raise the question of a '98 challenge from inside her own party.

Beyond Hartigan and Moseley-Braun, the convention is a place for lesser-knowns to move their careers forward. It is where Chicago meets Carbondale, where Quincy meets Kankakee. It is where the motivated meet the moneyed.

"They need to look toward '98 and begin to position some people to get the Democratic Party up off the floor," said John S. Jackson III, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and former party delegate. "They've bottomed out and are in worse shape that I've ever seen the Democrats in the 26 years I've lived in this state."

U.S. Rep. Richard J. Durbin of Springfield, chairman of the state delegation and candidate for the Senate, said the convention would be a starting point for renewed vitality. "This party's down, but it's not out. …

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