Credit: Bobby Sims

As the last unabashedly New Deal Democrat left in Chicago, I’d like to offer the chieftains of the Democratic Party a few words of unsolicited advice as they prepare for the final stretch of the March 15 primary campaign: It’s the governor, stupid!

That’s Bruce Rauner, our whacked-out Republican governor, who seems determined to eradicate unions and bankrupt public schools in the name of making Illinois more attractive to rich people.

Don’t blame me, folks—I didn’t vote for him.

If you’re a candidate angling for a win in the upcoming Democratic primary, you have to put Rauner’s head on your opponent’s torso, whether it’s a fair fit or not.

After all, Rauner is the most unpopular politician in Chicago not named Rahm.

But apparently, not all candidates appreciate this rather obvious campaign strategy—especially Juliana Stratton, who’s running against Ken Dunkin in the fiercely contested, highly expensive, mother-of-all primary battles for the Fifth District seat, on the south side.

Before I delve into the Stratton/Dunkin race, allow me to demonstrate the power of this political tactic by showing you how a master plays the Rauner card—that would be my old frenemy, former 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell, with whom I’ve been feuding on and off for almost 30 years.

Ah, where does the time go, Dick?

That old warhorse is running state rep Jaime Andrade against a challenger named Harish Patel in the 40th legislative district, on the near northwest side.

Andrade was appointed in 2013, replacing Deb Mell—Dick Mell’s daughter—when she moved from the state assembly to the City Council after her father retired.

Just following that great Chicago tradition of keeping it in the family.

Andrade’s a dependable Democratic loyalist who’s been more than happy to join house speaker Michael Madigan’s holy crusade against Rauner.

As part of his reelection effort, Andrade has sent out at least a half-dozen mailings blasting Patel as a Rauner tool supported by unnamed gubernatorial allies.

Is there any truth to these accusations? No. Patel’s a left-of-center progressive who fits in with the Will Guzzardi/Carlos Ramirez-Rosa wing of the party.

To which my old pal Mell would probably say: whoop-de-doo. If misleading, distortion-filled flyers can confuse an easily manipulated Chicago electorate, so it goes.

All’s fair in love and war—and Chicago politics.

Again, I’ll say this for Andrade—at least he’s a dependable foot soldier in the fight against Rauner.

If only the same could be said for Dunkin—Rauner’s favorite Democrat.

Well, aside from the Daley brothers, that is.

Twice in the last year, Dunkin has sided with Rauner over Madigan.

After Dunkin’s last defection, in which he helped kill an effort to keep Rauner from making more cuts in childcare assistance, Madigan made it clear that he wanted Dunkin out.

So along with several other high-ranking Democrats, Madigan enlisted Juliana Stratton—a lawyer and former aide to Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle—to run against him.

Backed by many unions, Stratton’s received about $900,000 to unseat Dunkin.

Rauner and his allies have responded by sending close to $1 million to Dunkin. And so this race has become a proxy battle between Madigan and Rauner.

As opposed to a faux proxy battle like the one Mell and Andrade have engineered against Patel.

Given all this, you’d think that Stratton would be hammering Dunkin as a Rauner flunky. But no, her campaign’s wasted valuable weeks trying to convince the voters that Dunkin—a four-term incumbent—is a thug.

They’ve been sending out flyers featuring Dunkin’s 20-year-old mug shot, taken after he was arrested on charges of assault.

Back in 1996, he slugged a man and broke his nose.

All right, look, I don’t condone brawls. And from press reports, it sort of sounds like Dunkin sucker-punched the dude. I don’t condone that either.

But, c’mon, people, it was 20 years ago. Dunkin was sentenced to perform 30 days of community service and given 18 months of probation.

It’s ancient history, and not nearly as relevant as Rauner’s assault on our dear state.

I don’t even think it’s helping Stratton’s campaign to raise the subject.

For instance, at a debate last week in the South Loop, Dunkin successfully turned the issue on its head and used it to effectively counterattack Stratton.

Noting that she describes herself as an advocate of restorative justice, Dunkin demanded to know what was restorative about dredging up an old mug shot.

There were many people in the audience nodding their heads in agreement. I’m pretty sure I was one of them.

Dunkin went on to blast Stratton for being Madigan’s handpicked tool—part of an effort to punish him for daring to leave “the plantation.”

And how did Stratton respond? Instead of saying she had support from other Democrats—including Preckwinkle, secretary of state Jesse White, and Third Ward alderman Pat Dowell—she said she was offended by terms like “plantation politics.”

To which Dunkin basically responded—oh, you’re sensitive about accusations of plantation politics, but not too sensitive to spread my mug shot all over the district.

I’ll say this about Dunkin: he’s pretty good at debates.

After the back-and-forth, everyone I talked to said Stratton should have counterpunched when Dunkin mentioned plantation politics.

Or as my old pal Billy put it: “She should have said, ‘At least I’m not on the Rauner plantation.’ ”

In short, when the Democrats can legitimately put Rauner’s head on a candidate’s body, they don’t. And when they can’t, they do.

I swear, rooting for the Democrats in the fight against Rauner is like cheering on the Bears. They seemed determined to mess it up.

Here’s a suggestion: maybe Stratton should bring in Dick Mell to run her campaign.

I know, he’s just another old white guy from the north side. But he’s smart enough to know that in this election, it’s the governor, stupid. v