U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said Wednesday that GOP state Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano has a "wonderful record" on immigration issues and deserves to defeat his Democratic rival in a tight suburban race for the Illinois House.
But Gutierrez' endorsement was belittled by a top aide to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who has invested heavily in the campaign of Saviano's opponent, Addison school board member Kathleen Willis.
"I've just got to tell you he's been a great guy, Skip. He has a wonderful record, and I'll stand on that record, and my endorsement will stand on that record," Gutierrez told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"In the end, I feel it's the right thing to do and let people to know. The other candidate to me, I don't see they have a record, and Skip does. I'd rather have Skip there knowing he'll stand up and support us whether on the DREAM Act, drivers licenses or this building of jails [to house immigration violators]," Gutierrez said.
"I don't know anything about the other candidate. I will tell you, if they'd chosen a candidate who had a very clear record of accomplishment, commitment and history, it might've been different. But I have to say it wasn't a hard decision to make in the end," he said.
Saviano's district was redrawn by Madigan to be heavily Latino in a bid to drive him from the Illinois House, so Gutierrez' endorsement could help swing the race that at least one recent poll has called a dead heat.
The congressman, who is a surrogate for President Barack Obama assigned to energize Latino voters in swing states, has recorded a robocall on Saviano's behalf that will be blanketing the district this week.
But Madigan spokesman Steve Brown questioned the value of the Gutierrez endorsement, which was first reported by the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
"I think I read somewhere where he had two people out there working," Brown said of Gutierrez. "We're down to the get-out-the-vote phase of a campaign. Everyone knows that. Voters already have been bombarded with direct mail and radio/TV, cable. If he's got boots on the ground, that's one thing. But I haven't heard any testimonials that that's the case.
"Gutierrez has a distinguished in Congress, but I don't know he has that kind of record as a field organizer," Brown said.
Willis has run a virtually invisible campaign, declining to return repeated phone calls from the Chicago Sun-Times. That tactic has been encouraged by Madigan strategists in other House races the speaker has targeted in the past in which he has paired up a little-known candidate against a Republican incumbent.
During a phone interview Wednesday with the Sun-Times, Gutierrez also took a shot at state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero), a Madigan ally who disrupted a Latino candidates' forum during the weekend by standing on a chair and imploring attendees not to vote Republican in the 77th House District race.
"To watch my fellow Democrat just simply disrupt it, saying 'Republicans are bad,' that's not the kind of America we need," Gutierrez said. "Not every Democrat is good and not every Republican is bad. It's that kind of rhetoric that all Republicans are bad, that they're all evil, that won't allow this country to heal and make it a great nation."
Gutierrez expressed little concern when asked whether he worried about any potential backlash from Madigan for backing a Republican in a race in which the speaker has invested his resources and certainly some of his vast political capital.
"The majority leader in the House of Representatives is Nancy Pelosi. I don't think Nancy Pelosi and I are going to have any problems with this endorsement if it ever were to come to her attention," Gutierrez said. "I'm a member of Congress. That's where I focus my energy and attention. I am not concerned, worried or take too much into consideration anything other than how I get it done in the House of Representatives."