A Big Mess In Illinois

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Well, the incumbent Democratic governor won his primary in Illinois, which more often than not is a good thing for the incumbent's party in a major race. Except...

His new running mate--the candidate for lieutenant governor--has admitted he was on anabolic steroids in 2005, and he's accused of holding a knife to a woman's throat in that year (he denies that this is true). And the woman had pled guilty to a prostitution charge. And his ex-wife had previously alleged the candidate had choked her.

And the candidate says he won't drop out of the race.

Scott Lee Cohen, the pawnbroker and candidate for lieutenant governor who is at the center of all this controversy, won his place on the Democratic ticket independent of any help from either of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and challenger Dan Hynes--both of whom say they didn't know about any of this until they read it in the papers.

But after winning his primary on Tuesday, as Quinn won the nomination for governor, Cohen and Quinn are joined on the ticket: when Illinois residents cast their ballots, they will vote for governor and lieutenant governor as a package--just as everyone in America does for president and vice president. They cannot vote for Quinn without voting for Cohen: the two are linked. There is only one box to check.

Quinn wants to get Cohen off the ballot: "[I]f his explanations are unsatisfactory, and so far they have been, then he has to do the appropriate thing," Quinn said. Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who will face a tough race against Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), is also calling for Cohen to drop out.

Cohen says he won't do it.

Cohen gave an interview to WTTW's Chicago Tonight on Thursday (watch it here), in which he defended himself and said 2005 was a rough time in his life. He also says he sought to bring this information to light when he launched his bid for lieutenant governor. Cohen says the allegations of his ex-girlfriend are false--that he never touched her during the argument that led to his arrest, in which she claims he held a knife to her throat, and after which police said she showed minor physical marks--that those accusations were vindictive retribution on her part for Cohen having previously called the police on her.

Cohen's ex-wife appeared with him for the TV interview.

Leaving aside the veracity of these allegations and Cohen's denial of them, and Cohen's right to defend himself in a public setting...

This does not look good. Even in defending himself--again, without judging that defense--Cohen uttered some lines in the TV interview that do not help a party seeking control of a state's governor's mansion and U.S. Senate seat:

"I assure you, I promise you, I never touched the woman. I never tried to cut her throat. I never did anything like that," Cohen said.

And later in the interview: "I never knew her as a prostitute. She was a massage therapist. I still don't believe that she was a prostitute, even though, you know, she pleaded guilty to something," Cohen said.

It is somewhat unfair to take these quotes out of context and say they look bad, as a person tries to defend himself from allegations that did not hold up in court--but they were legitimate sound bytes, and they do. Again, strictly from the optics standpoint...for now, Cohen is not the kind of press the Democratic Party needs in President Obama's home state.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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