Scott Lee Cohen bows out of Illinois lieutenant governor race

Scott Lee Cohen dropped out of the Illinois lieutenant governor race Monday at the urging of the state Democratic Party, after revelations that Cohen was once arrested for domestic abuse.

Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune / AP
During the middle of the Super Bowl, Democratic nominee for Illinois lieutenant governor Scott Lee Cohen arrives for a news conference where he announced that he was dropping out of the election, Sunday, in Chicago.

At the urging of the state Democratic Party, Illinois lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen resigned from the race Sunday, leaving open questions about the vulnerability of incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Mr. Cohen, who owns a family pawnbroker’s shop and campaigned as an outsider, won last week’s state primary but his victory was tarnished once it was revealed he was arrested in 2005 for domestic abuse and failed to pay back taxes and child support.

Democratic Party leaders worried that Cohen's record would make Governor Quinn, who stepped in after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached last year, vulnerable in the November election.

“There is uncertainty that if I continue to run that the Democrats will win in November," Cohen said Sunday at a tavern in the city’s Far North Side. "Many people came out to support me when I announced. The Democratic Party didn't, but many people did. This is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life."

Quinn is not out of the woods yet, political analysts say. The two leading Republican candidates for governor are facing a possible ballot recount and depending on the outcome of that race, Quinn may face a migration of Democratic voters upset by how the party has treated Cohen.

“Quinn’s a little vulnerable,” says R. Craig Sautter, a former campaign consultant for Quinn. “Cohen was elected by the voters and in a certain sense he represents a part of the Democratic coalition of hardworking people who made their mistakes in life and who don’t [appreciate] professional politicians.”

These voters may be upset “at how the establishment turned the screws on this guy,” he adds.

There is a possibility these same voters may redirect their vote to state Sen. Kirk Dillard if he wins the Republican gubernatorial primary. Unlike his primary opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady (R), who lives downstate and is largely unknown to Chicago voters, Mr. Dillard lives in the Chicago suburbs and has a more moderate record. He once appeared in an ad for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Arthur Turner is vying to step in for Cohen, a decision that is in the hands of the Democratic State Central Committee. Mr. Turner, the runner up who finished with 20,000 fewer votes than Cohen, released a statement Monday saying he hopes to bring “30 years of experience to the executive branch as we solve the difficult economic and social challenges that face this great state.”

The state central committee has the option of looking beyond the five candidates who ran in the Democratic primary. Whether it does so or not may depend on the outcome of the run-off between Mr. Brady and Dillard, and whether there needs to be a candidate from downstate rather than from the Chicago area, which all the candidates currently represent.

Illinois's lieutenant governor oversees several councils including the Illinois Main Street Program, which promotes tourism in small towns.

Though the position is largely ceremonial, some say it is a necessary back-up for the governorship. Mr. Sautter says the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich in January 2009 showed voters the importance of the secondary office.

“Had there been no lieutenant governor, there would have been a power fight that would have gone on for a couple of weeks,” he says. Instead, “Quinn was right there to step in and he was able to give the people some confidence – that here is someone they know and actually trust because of his long history in political activism.”


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