SPRINGFIELD - The next Illinois gubernatorial campaign, it seems, has already begun.
And Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is looking on course to make a run at what many believe is her burning political ambition: Governor of Illinois.
And her most recent actions certainly couldn't have damaged those ambitions any. They include suing Florida-based text-message spammers, ratcheting up an investigation into drug maker Eli Lilly and coming down on the side of an Illinois parental-notification abortion law.
Picking these issues shows Madigan is definitely eyeing a run for governor in four years, says Brian Gaines, professor of Political Science at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He says Madigan's recent actions are both non-partisan and popular.
"She's been very skillful and it shows she's looking to the general election as governor," Gaines said. Madigan's parental-notification decision "shows independent voters she's not a typical left-liberal Democrat," he added.
As for the spammers lawsuit, "That one was apple pie," Gaines said. "Nobody likes those guys."
Gaines said Madigan campaigned and spent heavily against a weak opponent in last November's election and won by a wide margin, leading him to comment: "She ran up her votes."
Madigan did so, he believes, to establish her electable credentials as a proven vote gainer at her next campaign - likely for governor.
If and when Madigan formerly enters the gubernatorial fray, she'll have some company from a fellow Democrat AG across the Mississippi. Jay Nixon has already announced that he will run for Missouri Governor in 2008 and is widely expected to be a shoo-in.
Like Madigan, Nixon has been taking legal shots at unpopular targets recently, particularly utility giant Ameren. Hundred of thousands of Missourians have lost power in two winter ice storms so far this season.
But with U.S. Senator Barack Obama launching a presidential bid, could Madigan see herself on a bigger stage of the U.S. Senate? Gaines said it might be "a back-up or Plan B" but stressed that state politics is her first love.
"If you injected her with truth serum, she'd tell you she wanted to be governor," Gaines said.
To get there, Madigan is likely to chart a similar course to the one she has begun on, he added. That means looking for more unpopular targets like spammers and drug companies plus issues where she can burnish her credibility with independents.
Even more importantly, Gaines said, she needs to avoid getting in the middle of skirmishes with powerful Illinois wranglers like Governor Rod Blagojevich and Illinois House Speaker - and Madigan's stepfather - Michael Madigan.
"She'll be looking to take on more highly visible cases that elevate her public profile," Gaines predicted. "And she'll stay away from anything that brings her too close to the legislature."