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Local race for state Senate seat may top spending records, experts say

Belleville News Democrat

Thursday, September 14, 2017  |  Article  |   By Elizabeth Donald

Candidates--Legislative (11) , Governor (44) , Political Parties (Incld Tea Party) (39a) Haine, Bill--State Senate, 56
With the competition set for replacing state Sen. Bill Haine in the Illinois Senate, the 56th District race is shaping up to be expensive and loud, experts said.

Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton announced Wednesday that he will seek the Republican nomination to run for the 56th District seat in the Illinois Senate, after Haine announced that he will not seek re-election while fighting blood cancer.

“I am running for the state Senate in order to use my business and leadership experience to get Illinois growing again,” Patton said. “For over a decade, Illinois has suffered from some of the worst legislative-driven bureaucracy in the nation. It is time to solve our financial problems and stop wasting our residents’ tax dollars.”

Prosecutor Rachelle Aud Crowe, of Glen Carbon, has already announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination to run for Haine’s seat. Crowe serves in the violent crimes division of the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Patton has served as mayor of Edwardsville since 2013. He is a practicing dentist, owner of the group practice Patton Dental for the last 23 years. He said as a health care provider, he will bring ideas to the table for lower health care costs, and wants to see the growth of investment and business expansion in Edwardsville spread to the rest of the state.

“To stop the tide of residents leaving our state, we need to create a climate where businesses will create good-paying jobs, where we invest in infrastructure that will foster growth, and where we strive to be the best state in the country for education,” Patton said. “That’s been my record as mayor of Edwardsville and I am excited for the opportunity to bring that same pro-growth agenda to Springfield, in an effort to get our state back on track.”

Political expert Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, cited statistics compiled by IllinoisElectionData.com, which ranks districts by how strongly Democratic or Republican they are, among other data.

It ranks the 56th Senate district as the second-most strongly-Democratic district in the state, after the 48th District, held by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Decatur). Its two House seats are ranked the third and fourth most-Democratic, with the 112th District’s state Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and 111th District’s Dan Beiser (D-Alton) respectively.

And yet Redfield said the 56th District is one of the most inviting targets for Republicans, as the seat is in play with Haine’s retirement.

“You would certainly expect that this will attract attention from both Democrats and Republicans in terms of holding or picking up the seat,” Redfield said. “I expect it will be in play, and the parties will spend money.”

How much money? The 56th District was last up in 2012, but in the most recent House races, the elections cost $4.6-5.1 million. That’s on the high end for Illinois legislative races, Redfield said.

“There’s every reason to expect that we’ll be talking about those kinds of numbers,” he said, pointing out that the current record for a Senate election is $5.3 million, $5.6 million for the House.

“It’s going to be a very expensive election and the people living in the 56th are going to get bombarded,” Redfield said. “This is going to be an area where you’ll have as much or more spending on a legislative election than anywhere else in the state.”

Redfield said these races are essentially a contest between the political parties and legislative caucuses as much as they are between two candidates. “Gov. Rauner, for all intents and purposes, is the Republican Party given how much he’s personally financed,” Redfield said.

Rauner and billionaire investor Kenneth Griffin personally contributed $50 million that made its way into legislative races in the last gubernatorial election, Redfield said. With Rauner likely self-financing his reelection bid with another $50 million in what is anticipated to be one of the most expensive races in U.S. history, Redfield said the Republican Party’s spending will be primarily “leadership spending” with most money coming from the party.

On the Democratic side, Redfield said, the primary sources of funding come from labor and trade unions, health care groups and trial lawyers.

Another area of note: Social media presence. Democrats were criticized for being “slow on the uptake” for social media, but have caught up, Redfield said. Social media and online presence of a candidate has an impact both in terms of raising money and in terms of people’s expectations of the candidates, he said.

“People who are comfortable with social media have an expectation that serious candidates have social media profiles to reach out and communicate with them,” Redfield said. “It’s partially about building an impression and image of how people perceive the campaign.”

Social media also allows a candidate to raise a lot of money in small, individual donations rather than relying on wealthy single donors and corporate PACs, Redfield said. “Not to have a presence is a disadvantage in organization and perception for a serious campaign,” he said. “Most people will get their information through social media.”

In terms of the 56th District race, so far Crowe has a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, created within the last couple of weeks. It was not immediately apparent that Patton has set up a social media platform yet.

Patton served on the Edwardsville City Council from 1997 to 2002 before he was elected to the Madison County Board from 2002 to 2010. He was re-elected back to the County Board in 2012 and served until his election as Edwardsville’s mayor in 2013. Born and raised in Edwardsville, he graduated from Edwardsville High School in 1986 and returned after college and dental school. He is married, with two children in college and one in fourth grade.

The 56th Senate District covers most of Madison County — including Alton, Wood River and Edwardsville — and stretches south to Interstate 64 to include parts of O’Fallon. Haine was elected to the Illinois Senate in 2002. He also served on the Madison County Board and as Madison County state’s attorney for 14 years.