For those who like to play “what if,” imagine this scenario.
Jim Edgar, the Republican Illinois governor from 1991 to 1999, leaves office with a high approval rating. He’s generally well-respected by the media and the voting public. In 2003, U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announces he’s not going to run again, which inspires President George Bush to call Edgar and ask him to run for the seat.
Edgar says yes. Despite running in a Blue state, because of his generally positive reputation as governor and center-leaning Republican, he wins the race in a landslide and becomes the next Illinois senator.
That’s not what happened. While Edgar left office with a 60 percent approval rating, and was asked by President Bush to go for the senate seat, Edgar declined.
Instead, Alan Keyes ran against Barack Obama. Keyes had extremely little credibility in Illinois, especially in Chicago, where he had adopted legal residence only just before the election. The race was no contest for Obama, who easily won with 70 percent of the vote. But being the presidential catapult the Illinois senate seat turned out to be, it’s obvious how different American politics could have been if Edgar decided to run.
“I remember a couple of times they tried to get me to run for the senate, and I decided against doing it, and some of the media guys from Chicago said ‘You’re right, we’re a lot nastier than we used to be,’” Edgar said to the small class of University of Illinois graduate journalism students in early May.
He’s now a distinguished fellow of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the U of I. The position affords him the opportunity to talk to journalism students about the power of media from a very different perspective – a politician dependent on the media to carry a message to the public.