Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a concealed-carry gun bill will damage his already-poor standing with voters in Southern Illinois, according to an expert on Illinois politics.
Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at University of Illinois-Springfield, said Quinn's actions might help him win some votes in a Democratic primary, but it could cost him some downstate votes in the general election.
"Obviously, he can't win the general election if he doesn't win the primary, but given the right Republican candidate, this could reinforce a huge problem that he has among downstate voters," Redfield said. "He needs some downstate votes. He can't lose downstate by such a huge margin that it cancels out the natural advantage that a Democrat has in Illinois."
On Tuesday in Chicago, Quinn surrounded himself with dozens of representatives of anti-gun groups and announced that he was issuing an amendatory veto of a bill that would allow Illinoisans to carry guns in public.
"This is a public safety hazard," Quinn said of the bill.
He announced a number of changes he was making to the legislation to make it more restrictive. Legislators who worked on the bill quickly said they would override Quinn's veto when they meet next week in Springfield.
Redfield said there's no doubt that Quinn took into account the political ramifications of his action. Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, is facing a primary battle this fall against former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley of Chicago, and possibly against Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is considering a run. Daley has been endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun opponent.
"He has to win a Democratic primary before he can win a general election. He has to make social issues appealing to both an urban and a progressive base," Redfield said. "That's playing to his strength, because certainly, the performance on budgets, pensions and economic types of things is very poor."
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson on Wednesday said his veto was all about making the bill better with "common-sense" improvements such as allowing a licensee to carry only one gun. She said the bill, as sent to the governor, would have allowed a licensee to carry multiple guns at the same time.
When he won the governor's race in 2010, Quinn carried just three counties: Cook, St. Clair and Alexander.
But Redfield said a Chicago-only strategy can't win in a general election.
"You just have to get to 51 percent, but you have to question whether this is a winning strategy, particularly as you get to the general election," Redfield said. "He has to maintain at least something close to what's become kind of the downstate Democratic base. If he's lost them on both social issues and on a perception -- which is that he really doesn't care about downstaters -- that's a huge problem with the electoral map."
The gun issue resonates with downstate voters, according to Redfield.
"People care about the issue. It also reinforces the narrative that he's an urban, Chicago guy who doesn't understand downstate, who doesn't understand rural Illinois, and doesn't have an appreciation of what's important to people downstate," Redfield said. "If he's wrong on guns, what else is he wrong about?"
He added, "Part of voting is trust -- that they'll represent your interest on an issue, because you don't know what all the issues are going to be. You want to vote for someone you feel understands your values and experience."
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said: "I wouldn't want to say that Pat Quinn did this just for political reasons. I think there are legitimate questions and concerns about this issue, and he gave voice to them. But it's pretty clear that he's thinking about the primary, and the coalitions and the numbers he has to put together in a Democratic primary for renomination."
Yepsen said in view of how Quinn got elected, his strategy makes sense.
"He's reflecting the views of his constituents and the people who helped him get elected in the first place. That's pretty normal for a politician," Yepsen said. "He didn't have that many downstate votes in the first place, and frankly if you look at where the Democratic votes come from, there isn't that much that comes from downstate Illinois."
Anderson said southern Illinois is "a top priority" for the governor, and rattled off a list of downstate projects that Quinn has supported, including various school improvements and road projects.
Redfield said closures of state facilities in Southern Illinois have soured some downstate voters on Quinn. Yepsen said Quinn is aware that he's not too popular right now in the region.
"He knows it, and that's reflected in his travel schedule. I don't think he had much to lose down here, and not a whole lot to gain," Yepsen said. "It makes perfectly good political sense that he would do this."
Quinn's last official trip south of Springfield was May 14 for a FedEx facility groundbreaking in Sauget.
Last year, a columnist in the Southern Illinoisan newspaper wrote that "the best way to get Quinn out of Chicago is to have bad luck befall your community." The columnist noted that the governor's recent trips to the region included one to Waltonville in response to a drought, one to Harrisburg following a tornado, and one to Alexander County following a flood.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.