Who will be Illinois’ next Secretary of State? For the first time since 1998, we don’t really know


CHICAGO (CBS) — Voters are weighing in on who will replace retiring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who has held that office since 1999.

With White going unchallenged in every Democratic primary since he took office in 1999, and never taking less than 63% of the vote against any Republican opponent in a general election, it’s the fist time the outcome of the secretary of state race has been in question in more than two decades.

There are some big names among the Democratic candidates, including former Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is looking to resurrect his political career after losing his 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate to Mark Kirk.

Giannoulias is facing off against Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, Chicago Ald. David Moore (17th), and Homewood resident Sidney Moore.

Valencia is looking to make the move from City Hall to statewide office, much like her predecessor as city clerk, Susana Mendoza, who is now the Illinois State Comptroller.

This morning, Valencia gathered with key supporters at Manny’s Deli in the South Loop.

While Giannoulias raised nearly double the campaign funds of his three rivals combined, amassing a $4.4 million warchest, and won the backing of more prominent labor unions, Valencia won the endorsements of most of Illinois’ top Democratic elected officials, including White himself, as well as Gov. JB Pritzker, and both U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

She’s hoping that swell of support from top Democrats will help boost her name recognition outside of Chicago, where she’s been city clerk since 2017, although it’s the only elected position she’s held.

Meantime, Giannoulias is trying to get back into elected office for the first time in more than a decade.

Endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party and several large labor unions, he also has raised more than $4 million in campaign funds, compared to about $1 million for Valencia, his closest competitor in campaign cash.

Giannoulias stopped by a Kenwood neighborhood school on Tuesday. The former state treasurer from 2007 to 2011, at the time he was the youngest state treasurer in the country, at just 30 years old when he first took office.

He lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 in a heated race against Republican Mark Kirk, in a race for former President Barack Obama’s seat in the Senate. After losing that race, Giannoulias went on to launch a private investment company, focusing mostly on start-ups.

David Moore, meantime, has run a relatively threadbare campaign, after raising a comparatively paltry $70,000 in contributions. A member of the City Council’s progressive caucus serving in his second term in the 17th Ward on the South Side, Moore has understandably struggled to gain the same traction as the frontrunners while seeking to boost his political profile beyond his own ward.

Sidney Moore’s campaign has been practically non-existent, with no formal organization or reported fundraising.

All four candidates agree the Secretary of State’s office needs to be modernized, with Valencia pushing to create an online portal for renewing driver’s licenses, Giannoulias proposing to allow the state’s more vulnerable residents to make appointments online so they don’t have to wait in line, and David Moore seeking to create digital license plates which would help police catch carjackers by displaying the word “stolen” if a car is reported as carjacked. 

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will go on to face the winner of the Republican primary between Illinois State Rep. Dan Brady and former federal prosecutor John Milhiser

White’s retirement could give Republicans their first genuine chance at retaking the office since White was elected to replace George Ryan, who went on to become governor, only to be convicted in a sweeping corruption case stemming from a licenses-for-bribes scandal during his time as secretary of state.

It’s Ryan’s indictment that’s often seen as the first step in the downfall of the Illinois Republican Party over the past two decades.

Brady, a state lawmaker for more than 20 years, and one of two deputy Republican leaders in the Illinois House, has touted his experience and said secretary of state is an office he’s long wanted to run for.

He has a long reputation for being able to work with Democrats in the legislature, helping pass the state’s “first-person consent law,” which allows adult organ donors to decide whether to donate their organs after their deaths, preventing family members from deciding for them. He also supported legislation to grant temporary visitor’s driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Milhiser, a former U.S. Attorney for central Illinois, and former Sangamon County State’s Attorney, is part of a GOP slate of allies of billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who is seeking to oust fellow billionaire J.B. Pritzker from the governor’s office, and has given $50 million to Republican candidate for governor Richard Irvin, who in turn has transferred $700,000 of that money to Milhiser’s campaign.

As the top federal prosecutor in Illinois, Milhiser oversaw the 2021 indictment of former state Sen. Sam McCcann on fraud charges, and the 2019 conviction of Brendt Christensen in the kidnapping and killing of Yingying Zhang, a Chinese doctoral student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Both candidates have touted their ability to work across the aisle, and have both emphasized a need to upgrade technology and streamline the office.

While Milhiser has far outpaced Brady in fundraising, thanks almost entirely due to Griffin’s and Irvin’s largesse, Brady held a lead in the polls just weeks before the election, although a majority of Republican voters remained undecided as of two weeks before the primary.

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