State Sen. Kwame Raoul announced Thursday that he won't seek the Democratic governor nomination, a move that leaves Gov. Pat Quinn and former White House chief of staff Bill Daley as the major contenders in the March 2014 primary.
The Hyde Park lawmaker's decision most immediately benefits Quinn by eliminating the political threat of a popular African-American candidate winning the support of black voters in Chicago and Cook County — a significant voting bloc in statewide Democratic politics.
Quinn, seeking a second elected term as governor after replacing the impeached and imprisoned Rod Blagojevich in 2009, traditionally has gotten his strongest support from African-American voters, though Daley maintains that backing is flagging.
Raoul, in an interview with the Tribune outside a downtown fundraising event, said he was not backing either Quinn or Daley but imagines he'll eventually make an endorsement. "Just right now, I want to turn off (the politics) and focus on getting this job done," he said.
"This job" refers to his role as chairman of a special legislative conference committee charged with recommending a plan to resolve the state's $100 billion government worker pension debt. He said negotiators, who met again Thursday, are moving forward and that "it's a very critical time" in efforts to come up with a plan.
Raoul, who has been the point man for majority Senate Democrats on a variety of controversial issues, said family considerations were "a huge part" of his decision, as well as concerns about the cash required for a campaign and a "desire not to be part of the divisiveness" of a hard-fought primary contest.
"I finally made the decision (Thursday) that it was time to put an end to the flip-flopping in my mind and dragging a lot of other people along. I think it's best for the state and for me and my family," Raoul said.
Raoul, who replaced President Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate after Obama was elected U.S. senator in 2004, said his decision not to run for governor "doesn't rule out anything in the future."
"I'm definitely moved by the voices of support in all sectors of the state and I'm not going to ignore that in my current role," he said.