WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin told me Tuesday that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is "seriously thinking" about running for governor.
I talked to Madigan about a gubernatorial bid on Saturday night -- she was here for President Barack Obama's Inauguration festivities -- and my takeaway from the conversation is she wants to run whether or not Bill Daley also gets in a Democratic primary to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn.
The main consequence of Madigan, 46, inching toward a bid is this: We now know the politically vulnerable Quinn is heading toward a colossal primary fight because he is going to be facing strong opponents, either Madigan, Daley or both in the March 18, 2014, balloting.
"She had made special outreach to labor and they know it, they've noticed in terms of her showing up at events and the like," Durbin told me. "I don't think she has made a final decision. I know she is in the process of making a decision."
When Madigan mulled a Senate run in 2009, she mustered little enthusiasm when we talked about the prospect of what would have been a Democratic primary contest and taking a job where she would have to commute between Chicago and Washington.
That was not the case when we chatted about a 2014 Democratic primary for governor at the Illinois Inaugural Gala. This time, she's hungry.
As we talked, with her husband, Pat Byrnes by her side, Madigan, was the one who reminded me that her kids were older now and more independent: Rebecca is 8 and Lucy turns 5 next month.
Durbin told me he assumes Quinn is running for re-election. As for getting involved in a primary, Durbin, who is up for re-election in 2014, said, "My plan is to stay out."
When Daley was considering running for governor in August, 2001, I asked him if he had "the fire in his belly" to make the race. Turned out back then, he did not. When I've talked to Daley, 64, about running this time, well, I sense he's fired up.
Conventional wisdom has it that Madigan, attorney general since 2003, and Daley, a former Commerce secretary, business executive and Obama's former chief of staff, should not run against each other because it would make it easier for Quinn to win.
After all, the reason Madigan and Daley have for running is the same: They have the experience to run the state better than Quinn, 64.
There is another conventional wisdom at work here: Having Quinn and Daley in the contest gives Madigan an advantage in a three-way battle because she is the only woman.
So where do things stand?
♦ Quinn has $1.06 million in his political warchest to Madigan's $3.6 million. Daley hasn't opened a campaign fund yet, but with his extensive national network, he could pump out millions in contributions within a short time.
♦ Daley can't slow down his planning to wait for Madigan. Why should he? He can always reassess if she jumps in.
♦ How big a problem would Madigan's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, be for her? The senior Madigan, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, was the target of a "Fire Madigan" campaign Illinois Republicans cranked up against him in advance of the November elections.
All that did for the Republicans was nothing; Democrats won veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly. But that doesn't mean Michael Madigan could not surface again as an issue in a primary where more skilled political operatives take him on.
How can Lisa Madigan be governor if her dad is the speaker?
♦ How big a problem is it that Daley is the son and brother of Chicago mayors? Downstate reaction to a Daley is not as big a problem in a primary -- where most Democratic votes are in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties.
♦ It's premature for either Daley or Madigan to concede anything. This drama will play out in several acts.
And I don't know the ending.