CHICAGO Just months ago, former White House chief of staff William Daley was among several influential Democrats threatening primary challenges to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn from within his own party.
But Daley's abrupt decision to drop out of the race now leaves Quinn virtually alone in the Democratic field, free to unite the state's dominant party behind him despite Illinois' enormous financial problems - unless a significant candidate makes a late entry into the race.
Daley spokesman Peter Giangreco said Monday evening that the son of late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley was abandoning what many anticipated would have been a tough campaign to unseat the incumbent. Giangreco said the Chicago Democrat would explain his decision Tuesday morning at a news conference in the city.
It would have been the first elected office for Daley, though he had served as a trusted adviser to two presidents, first as Bill Clinton's commerce secretary and then as Barack Obama's chief of staff after Rahm Emanuel left the post to make a successful run to succeed Richard M. Daley as mayor. He had flirted with the idea of running for governor before, but this was the furthest he had ventured into an actual campaign.
Quinn did not publicly comment on Daley's withdrawal, but his campaign issued a statement saying a "divisive primary would have only helped Republicans who want to take this state backwards and undo the important progress we have made."
"He's got an open road now," said political analyst Thom Serafin, speaking of Quinn. "He can take his time in making decisions for his campaign, and he has more time to focus on governing the state."
Serafin called Daley's choice an "unbelievable turn of events for Quinn."
Daley's decision, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, comes less than four months after he said he would challenge Quinn and aggressively criticized the governor for his handling of the state's nearly $100 billion public pension shortfall and other issues. Daley was the only prominent Democrat to follow through in officially challenging to Quinn, though Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had toyed with the idea, as did state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago. Former CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman has said he is in the race but lacks the governor's name recognition and resources.
A successful attorney and businessman, Daley had begun building a campaign on his name recognition, a burst of hefty fundraising, big name supporters and several statewide tours, though his appeal outside Chicago was in question. He had promised campaign finance reform and new ways to solve the pension crisis and the state's enormous backlog of unpaid bills.
Although it wasn't clear what factor's Daley weighed in deciding to withdraw, he signaled Monday that he wasn't sure he wanted to devote time to a long, hard campaign followed by at least four years in office.
Giangreco said Daley, 65, had been rethinking the decision about committing "what it's going to take" to dig Illinois out of its massive financial problems at this stage in his life.
"There's nothing that prepares you for getting into these things," Giangreco said.
Daley and Quinn had begun to face off directly and personally. The governor recently called Daley a "millionaire banker" who "helped drive the American economy into a ditch and created the Great Recession. We don't particularly need advice from people who created the mess in the first place."
Daley's move comes just days before Illinois Democratic leaders were expected to meet in Springfield to discuss slating party candidates for statewide office. The Cook County Democratic Party, which has historic ties to the Daley family, recently endorsed Quinn for 2014, but Daley dismissed the move, saying it was based on the power of incumbency.
The four Republicans in the race are state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.
Rauner reacted to Daley's decision by stressing that he was now the only candidate in the race, for either party, who did not have ties to Illinois state government.
"I'm the only candidate able to offer a clean break from the failed policies coming out of Springfield," Rauner said.