Andy Skoog launched his campaign for circuit clerk rather late and was outspent by opponent Bob Vickrey right to the end of the campaign. Skoog won, anyway.
The Illinois State Board of Elections released its final records for the 2012 campaign season and, as the Skoog case demonstrates, big-money candidates didn’t always prevail.
Skoog, a Utica Democrat, brought in $6,500 after Sept. 30, most of it in small, non-itemized contributions, according to ISBE records. He spent nearly all of it on a media blitz in the closing weeks of his campaign and entered Election Day with a cash balance of less than $200.
Vickrey, a Peru Republican, retained a significant edge in funding throughout the campaign. Vickrey raised $18,000 after Oct. 1 and then funneled $23,000 of his own money into the campaign — and this after amassing cash reserves of $30,000 through June 30.
The spending gap didn’t matter: Skoog won the clerkship with 58 percent of the vote.
Rocky Raikes, chairman of the La Salle County Democratic Central Committee, said voters seemed wary of Vickrey’s ambitious pledge to recoup millions in past-due fines and fees. Moreover, he said, Skoog went “door-to-door as much as any candidate could.”
“Money doesn’t buy everything,” Raikes said. “I think people were looking for somebody new and fresh to come in there.”
“Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done and the collection of the millions of dollars owed to La Salle County taxpayers through the circuit clerk’s office is no exception,” Vickrey replied. “How is it that over 19,000 court cases have outstanding balances?”
Other candidates who trumped their opponents on the fundraising trail had stronger returns on Election Day.
State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) crushed Republican challenger Don Jensen with 63 percent of the vote and had at least three times more cash in reserve ($90,000, as of Sept. 30) than Jensen raised in the entire race.
Jensen was active in the fourth quarter, however. He raised more than $13,000 in cash and in-kind donations and spent $11,000 on advertising in the closing weeks of his race. It wasn’t remotely enough to unseat Mautino, who has held the seat since 1991.
Mautino said he attributed his win to avoiding negative campaigning and to employing a team of volunteers who, from offices in four cities, collectively placed 80,000 phone calls urging people to vote.
While Skoog and Mautino both are Democrats, two Republicans emerged victorious from races that were both hotly contested and costly.
Troy Holland, a Mendota Republican, won a La Salle County judgeship over Ottawa Democrat Anita Kopko and enjoyed a campaign funding advantage throughout the race.
Both were active in the closing weeks, however. Kopko raised $6,500 in the final weeks of her campaign and spent it all — she reported no reserves through Dec. 31 — on direct mail and media advertising.
Yet Holland outspent her during the same period. He raised $6,500 and added $15,000 of his own money and spent it all (closing balance: zero dollars) on a media blitz. He won the judgeship with a 55-percent majority.
Susan Thornton, chairman of the La Salle County Republican Central Committee, said Holland enjoyed strong name recognition through his family and their farm-implement business and was able to reach out to Democrats as well as fellow Republicans.
“He was able to raise money because he had great ideas and great fundraisers with donors from both sides of the aisle,” Thornton said. “Troy is just a wonderful man. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”
The race for state Senate was a bit closer. State Sen. Sue Rezin won her first full term of office with a 54-percent majority, but the relatively tight spread might be more of a reflection on the duration of her first term than her cash-on-hand.
Rezin (R-Morris) had been appointed to fill Gary Dahl’s unexpired term and had never before faced voters in La Salle County’s west end.
Nevertheless, Rezin enjoyed a cash advantage over Democratic opponent Chris Benson from start to finish.
She entered the fourth quarter with $62,000 in reserves and added $100,000 in individual contributions and donations from Political Action Committees ($37,400), plus another $33,000 in in-kind contributions. She spent nearly all of it.
Benson, by contrast, raised just $10,000 from individual donors and PACs but also nearly $80,000 in in-kind services. She also left more money on the table, spending just $53,000 and leaving nearly $16,000 in reserves.
While acknowledging Rezin’s funding advantage, Thornton said Rezin’s biggest advantage was her door-to-door campaign. Defying the summer heat and drought, Thornton knocked on “thousands of doors” and connected with voters face-to-face.
“She was just a very hard worker and a tireless campaigner,” he said. “It was a brutal campaign, but she always kept a smile on her face and prevailed. She was always positive.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter