Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will TV be O’Brien’s equalizer?

It has been nearly one month since the Chicago Tribune came out with the poll that showed Terrance O’Brien’s campaign for Cook County Board president was so low that even beleagured incumbent Todd Stroger ranks above him.

Yet O’Brien, whose political resume relies heavily on his term as head of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, has the chance to make up significant ground. Who’s to say that the next round of polls won’t show him running close to the lead.

WHAT GIVES O’BRIEN a boost is the fact that his campaign became the first of the four Democrats wishing to run Cook County government to purchase that all-valuable airtime on local television. We’re soon going to start seeing some heavy rotation of spots promoting O’Brien, including one where he claims to have used his current post to clean up Chicago-area pollution and says he’ll do the same thing with the county.

All the other candidates challenging Stroger in the Democratic primary next month say they will soon be on television as well, although they won’t say how soon, for how long or with what content.

For their campaign’s sake, they had better not wait too long.

Because while O’Brien literally was the fourth place candidate in that Tribune poll whose results were published last month, there was significant evidence that it was all a matter of name recognition. Seriously, who pays attention to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District?

IF O’BRIEN’S CAMPAIGN advertisements manage to catch the public eye, he could very easily become the best known of the four Democratic candidates.. Then, we may have to go back to wondering if O’Brien will be the white guy who gets a significant vote while all the other African-American candidates wind up splittting the city’s black vote.

In a four-way race, it probably only takes about 26-30 percent of the primary vote to win – and that Tribune poll had 26 percent of would-be Democratic Party primary voters undecided (nobody asked me, but I’d be among the undecided too).

The simple fact is that there are few people who take the time to seriously learn about a candidate’s positions on issues. His “platform” might as well be irrelevant.

Too many base their views of the candidates way too heavily on these television spots and the impression they can give. O’Brien could give himself a serious boost of credibility in the minds of people who are only now starting to remotely think about who they want to vote for – and whose priority on Election Day may very well be the U.S. Senate campaign.

I WOULD GUESS that the few would-be voters who are making the county board presidency a priority are the ones who are determined to vote against Stroger. Not that they have a clue who they really want. For them, it’s all about ABT.

Voting for “Anybody But Todd” could mean they merely have been bitter for the past four years that Stroger won the ’06 general election, or they really want to blame someone for sales taxes and can’t figure out a way to blame the state government (which receives the largest share of money collected from the sales tax).

I’ll repeat myself from past commentaries published here – Todd Stroger probably is being blamed irrationally for the things that have “gone wrong,” but he’s still getting the blame. His only chance of success on Feb. 2 is if none of the other three candidates can get a strong grasp of the bulk of the remaining vote.

These new campaign spots are O’Brien’s attempt to make that grasp of what will probably be (my guess) the 20 percent of the electorate that will vote for Stroger.

SO IT WILL be cute to see those spots on television that try to put the O’Brien brand in the voter mindset prior to the primary election. Will would-be voters think it cute, or silly, that O’Brien straightens out a “Cook County” sign that is hanging crooked – symbolic of what he claims he will do if he is elected to what is one of the most significant political posts in local government.

Even with the expense of the Chicago television market, his expenditure of several hundred thousands of dollars with of advertising time means that O’Brien is going to be a player for Election Day. It will definitely be more significant than his appearance greeting people Monday at the Metra commuter train station in Franklin Park.

I only hope that Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and circuit court Clerk Dorothy Brown don’t wait too long to join in the overpriced television “fun,” or else they’re going to find that their campaigns will become the political “afterthoughts” whose niche some people were eager to assign to O’Brien last month.

It also means that the next round of polls for this particular campaign will be interesting to see just how much movement up or down there will be by each of the campaigns. Anybody who says they “know” for sure who will win the Democratic primary for county board president on Feb. 2 is being foolish.


No comments: