SPRINGFIELD – There was no booing this year, but the divisions and intraparty squabbles among Illinois Democrats were on full display Wednesday in Springfield as they ripped both Republicans and each other during events that traditionally help kick off the campaign season.
Despite Gov. Pat Quinn's cancellation of an annual rally at the State Fair, where he was booed by union members last year, Democrats gathered for a party breakfast. Quinn and his sole challenger, former White House chief of staff William Daley, traded barbs about who could be the best candidate in the 2014 primary.
The state party leader, House Speaker Michael Madigan, declined to attend the event, hosted by the Illinois Democratic County Chairman's association.
Quinn vowed to beat anyone who opposed him, noting his close primary and general election victories in 2010.
"There were a lot of folks who counted me out," Quinn said. "I won the election because I had everyday people on my side. I think we can come through again."
Noting Quinn's ongoing battles with Democratic lawmakers over the state's lack of progress on pension reform, Daley said he would "be a governor who says, 'We're all in it together. I run to unite us, not divide us."
But he also addressed concerns that, as the son and brother of two former Chicago mayors, he would be too city focused.
"Some folks ask: What can a guy named Daley from Chicago possibly do for all the people of Illinois?" Daley said. "Well, the people of Illinois are fair and decent. And they want a governor who can lead."
The event transpired as Democrats, who control both the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature, battle to overcome infighting on a number of issues. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have sued Quinn over his halting lawmakers' pay until they solve the pension crisis, and Daley is among a number of Democrats who question Quinn's leadership as the state faces deep financial problems.
Democrats couldn't deny the tensions in the room.
"It's there," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a top pensions negotiator. "But we can all come together and enjoy a nice breakfast."
Alan Pirtle, president of the county chairman's association, relayed a message of "regards and regrets" from the speaker, who also declined in 2008 to share a stage with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Quinn brushed off the no-show.
"He hasn't come in previous years a couple times, but I think he knows how to organize Democrats and we work together when we can," the governor said.
Senate President John Cullerton said he expects he and Madigan will not make an endorsement in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. At least one other Chicago Democrat, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, has stated an interest in a possible Quinn challenge, but he told the Associated Press he wasn't yet ready to make a decision. Later, attending the fair, he was surrounded by supporters in T-shirts that read, "Kwame for Illinois."
Democrats in Cook County, the largest county party organization in the state, will gather Friday to formally endorse a candidate for governor. County party officials said only Quinn was on the schedule to attend and ask the group for its endorsement, though Daley has reportedly been making phone calls to committee members over recent days.
"It would be very difficult to imagine the party endorsing someone who is not there," said state Representative Lou Lang of Skokie, the group's vice chair.
Cook County Democratic Party Chair Joe Berrios said members also could decide not to endorse anyone.
In place of the rally he cancelled, Quinn spent Wednesday afternoon listening to music performances at the fair at his governor's day picnic on the director's lawn. He rejected the notion that he was trying to avoid more boos or face time with his opponents.
"I don't think people will ever want to go back [to the old way]," he said. "It's all about voters."