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Everybody these days has something to say about what the future holds for Lisa Madigan—except Lisa Madigan.
Madigan, the state attorney general, is widely considered the most popular politician in Illinois. And even if Rod Blagojevich, Roland Burris, Richard Daley, Todd Stroger, a few dozen legislators in Springfield, and a few dozen aldermen at City Hall have inadvertently helped her attain this lofty status, she’s going to be tough to beat in just about any race she gets into.
Of course, Madigan hasn’t revealed what her plans are—if she’s decided on them herself—and all sorts of other elected officials are waiting to see what offices she decides not to run for so they can instead.
In the meantime, the speculation, analysis, insight, and rumor mills are in high gear.
I recently got a call from a politico whom I've always found to be up on what’s going on. His tip that day was that two people with deep Democratic Party ties had separately told him that Madigan was about to announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
The news didn’t come as a surprise—a couple weeks earlier the same source had told me that top Democrats in Washington were intensely trying to recruit Madigan for a Senate run, and another person closer to the AG confirmed it was true without providing details.
Within a week news broke that President Obama and Rahm Emanuel were among the attorney general’s suitors. State treasurer Alexi Giannoulias—who’s basically been campaigning for Senate at least since last year’s Democratic National Convention—took a few digs at Madigan, but then stopped talking about his plans.
So what I was hearing was big news. I called my second contact expecting confirmation that I’d heard it right. Instead she responded with the laughter of a deeply amused elder, as if to say, “That’s funny! And since you’re so adorable, maybe you can try again tomorrow.” When she stopped laughing, she told me that she hadn’t heard anything of the sort, so it probably wasn’t true.
I decided to run the information past a few others. I got one political insider on the phone as he was finishing a meeting on the state budget morass with a group of legislators. “We were just talking about Lisa,” he said. “We were all figuring that she has to be thinking about the Senate now. Who’d want to step into this mess?”
It was a valid question, but only a question. The bottom line was that they didn’t know Madigan’s plans either.
By the time I got off the phone my previous contact had called me back and left a message saying she had something else to pass on that I'd definitely want to hear.
I dialed her right up. She told me she’d just checked with some other well-informed people, which I found interesting since it suggested that she wasn’t quite as certain of her earlier response as she’d appeared. Who’s laughing now? I thought.
Not me. “I figured you’d want to know that your information is incorrect,” she said.
Was I being spun? Suddenly I was certain of it. I hung up and then tracked down a city pol who can usually tell me what the old-school Regular Democratic Party types know and where they're leaning. He said I was right—there had been lots of discussions about Madigan lately. “I hear she’s leading in the polls,” he told me.
No kidding? For which office?
“All of them, I think,” he said.
When in doubt, call the official spokesperson. Mary Morrissey, Madigan’s political director, was friendly and straightforward and well-rehearsed at answering the question I had. “She has not made a decision yet," she said. "She will make a decision soon."
"Can you tell me how soon?" I asked.
"No," she said, "because then I'd have to kill you."