Friday, February 19, 2010

It’s true that Illinois Dems have advantage come November 2. Will they blow it?

I will be the first to admit that when Alexi Giannoulias made public this week the results of a poll that show him with a narrow lead (so narrow that it is more accurate to call it a tie) in the campaign for U.S. Senate, the results were purely self-serving.

Not that I think the Illinois treasurer’s campaign for Senate is a lost cause. Because in reading through the results of the poll paid for by Giannoulias, he came up with a couple of tidbits that I think we all ought to remember.

ILLINOIS HAS BECOME a strong Democrat-leaning state. So many things have to go wrong for the overwhelming GOP sweep that Republican partisans seem to want to spin us into thinking is inevitable.

There is a reason why the big wins experienced by Democrats in Illinois were sustained for the better part of the past decade. Historically, when one political party in Illinois managed to rack up a big win (Democrats in 1964, Republicans in 1994 and 1956), the partisan results were neutered in the very next election cycle.

By all rights, Republicans should have taken back some control in Illinois in 2004, and the fact that there was once a two-year period in which the Dems had just about everything under their control should be a long-distant memory.

But it isn’t.

ONE SUCH FACT is that the disdain with which some people in this country want to express toward the policies (and existence) of President Barack Obama isn’t shared here. Giannoulias’ poll has Obama with a 59 percent approval rating among Illinoisans (the Gallup Organization gave him an even higher rating in a poll they released Feb. 5, with a 65.2 percent Illinois approval rating).

His poll also shows only 34 percent of Illinois residents thinking favorably of the Republican Party, compared to 46 percent who view it unfavorably and 41 percent of Illinoisans who think favorably about the Democratic Party.

Of course, what this means mostly is the fact that in Illinois, we think favorably of the man who adopted Chicago as his hometown when he reached adulthood.

Anyone who tries to turn the Illinois elections into some sort of Obama “referendum” is going to take the GOP to defeat and depression come Nov. 3.

IT ALL COMES down to the fact that Illinois’ population has shifted from a state where Chicago and rural Illinois were roughly equal and the Chicago suburbs were secondary to one where those suburbs now account for nearly half the state’s residents.

With the Republican Party of recent years being a political entity that seems concerned with putting rural America into a place of significance, it has resulted in many of those suburban residents deciding they have something more in common with urban Chicago.

Which is why Democrats are hoping that the gubernatorial ticket of Brady/Plummer remains in place. A resident of Bloomington and another from Edwardsville both trying deliberately to appeal to rural Illinois has the potential to turn off the bulk of the state’s residents.

When considering that Republicans have practically surrendered a chance to win at Illinois attorney general or secretary of state (Steve Kim and Robert Enriquez), I’m wondering if the Republican Party’s best chance to win a statewide constitutional officer is with Judy Baar Topinka, the one-time state treasurer who wants a political comeback as Illinois comptroller.

BUT SOME OF the same people who are so eager to run partisan campaigns and push “conservative” values down our throats are the ones with the biggest hangups about Topinka, whom they didn’t think much of when she ran for governor in 2006.

I think it would be perfectly ironic if she were the only GOP victory of the year.

But I’m not naïve enough to think life is that simple. I see the same anecdotal evidence that backs up those polls that indicate people who lean Republican (or those “independents” who are really just conservatives too wimpy to use the GOP label) are feeling a sense of excitement that makes it possible they will be the ones who will turn out in strength to cast ballots.

Yet Giannoulias’ poll results claim that 51 percent of “independents” in Illinois are leaning Democrat. And that same Gallup poll showing that we like Obama says that 54.2 percent of Illinoisans lean Democrat.

THE REAL TRICK is going to be whether or not the whole “Blagojevich” phenomenon of listening to his trial in U.S. District Court is going to be so depressing that it turns people off to anything involving electoral politics. It could happen.

But this is still a state where some of the ideals that Republican candidates are pushing don’t fit in as well as they do in Wyoming; which according to that Gallup poll is the state where Obama’s approval rating is the lowest.

Alexi Giannoulias may very well lose the U.S. Senate campaign to Mark Kirk. But let’s not forget that he has some significant advantages in terms of the political playing field. Kirk is going to have to work hard if he wants that Election Day victory.

His followers should lighten up on the rancid rhetoric they spew whenever anyone dares to point out that fact.


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