CHICAGO – Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Thursday that he's "seriously" considering a run for Illinois governor in 2014, a move that would represent a major Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Pat Quinn.
Daley, who has mulled campaigns for the state's highest office before, spoke about leadership during a campaign-style speech Thursday before Chicago's business and political elite. After the speech, when an audience member asked if he was running for governor, Daley said he was "thinking about it seriously."
Although he didn't criticize Quinn by name, Daley said Illinois needs better leadership, particularly with its shaky finances – billions in unpaid bills and the worst-in-the-nation pension problem. Quinn has said he'll seek a second term in 2014.
"There is nothing wrong with Illinois right now that can't be fixed with better leadership," he told the civic group City Club of Chicago during a luncheon. "Leadership is the missing ingredient that will help us tackle the scale and complexity of our problems."
His wide-ranging speech covered President Barack Obama, the fiscal cliff, unions, energy, pensions and stories about growing up around prominent leaders: Both Daley's father and brother were longtime Chicago mayors.
He later declined to give details to reporters about his timeline for deciding. He also refrained from taking specific stances on issues, saying he's not a candidate yet.
"Illinois has one of the most serious fiscal problems in America," he said during the speech. "It's no wonder the people of Illinois hunger for leadership, they can see our potential ... They can see how our future is being held back in a seeming endless skirmish that has not seen significant progress in years."
Daley left the Obama administration earlier this year. He was named chief of staff in January 2011, months after Rahm Emanuel left the job to run for Chicago's mayor. Daley has years of political and business experience, serving as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and running Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.
The governor, who was traveling in Germany on Thursday, has said that he's ready for any primary challenger. A Quinn campaign spokeswoman didn't immediately return a message.
Quinn, a former lieutenant governor, became governor in 2009 after lawmakers removed ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office. Blagojevich is serving 14 years in prison for a range of corruption charges including allegations he tried to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama.
Quinn narrowly won office in 2010 over Republican state Sen. Bill Brady.
Republicans in Illinois have made the 2014 Illinois governor's race a top priority, particularly after suffering devastating Nov. 6 election losses. Illinois state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who narrowly lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary to Brady, has said he's considering a run. Other potential candidates mentioned include Brady and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria.