Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Burris “name” recognition no longer worthy of an early lead in the polls

It used to be back in the days when Roland Burris ran his losing bids for governor, senator and mayor that the initial poll in those campaigns would show the one-time Illinois attorney general in the lead among the candidates.

All of his less resume-qualified opponents would lag behind him, although there would be a significant number of people who were undecided about what to do.

WHAT WOULD INEVITABLY happen is that all those undecideds would decide for themselves that the campaign was about the other candidates, and that Roland was irrelevant.

The undecideds would split up among the other candidates, and one of them would shoot ahead of Burris to take a lead – and ultimately prevail on Election Day.

Roland Burris in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2002 was a guy who could only appeal to a certain hard-core that had its mind made up early. He couldn’t sway anyone else to consider him for higher office.

And now, it appears that Burris doesn’t even have that factor going for him, at least if the results of a certain poll taken by Zogby International are worth anything.

THE ZOGBY STUDY, paid for by the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois, has a 3.9 percent margin of error. But not even that makes Burris competitive.

He gets 5.3 percent of the vote, and it would appear that a campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Illinois would center around state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state Comptroller Dan Hynes.

The poll shows Giannoulias barely leading Hynes 28.1 percent to 26.8 percent – which falls within the margin of error. The two “kids” are leaving 71-year-old Burris lagging behind.

Burris’ campaign people are trying to spin these results by citing his past campaigns, where the early poll leader ultimately did not win on Election Day.

BUT THAT DOESN’T work because in those campaigns, Burris was the early leader. His past record shows he can’t hold an early lead because he can’t appeal to anyone other than a hard-core – which appears to have become an urban black voter base that wants to promote African-American political empowerment, regardless of the actual candidate.

Back in 1998 when he ran for Illinois governor a second time, he tried labeling his three Anglo opponents as “unqualified white boys,” a quip that came back to haunt him – even if there was a sense in which it was true that none of the three major challengers in that primary had as much electoral experience as did Burris.

This time, it wouldn’t work, mainly because any such blatant comment would be jumped all over by people who want to ignore racial issues, no matter how flagrant they may be.

And also, Dan Hynes by now has been Illinois comptroller for just as long as Burris held that post, before he moved up to serve one term as state attorney general.

IF THIS POLL is truly worthy of anything (and it might not be, since we don’t know exactly who will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate), it would appear that the campaign will come down to a battle between the old Democratic organization types of Chicago and the new guard who want to view the city’s political culture as the place that created Barack Obama.

Hynes is the son of the former state Senate president and Cook County assessor, and many of the “old-school” ward organization types in Chicago will want to support the Hynes name, keeping it in line with such multi-generational political families such as Daley, Cullerton and Madigan – just to name a few.

Giannoulias is the basketball-playing buddy of Obama whose ties to him go back to the University of Chicago – which in itself is an island of civility in an urban morass, and I don’t mean that in a racial text.

The university stood out on the South Side even before the neighborhoods surrounding the Hyde Park campus became majority African-American population.

BURRIS, BY COMPARISON, has become the doddering old man of sorts, floundering on the political sidelines while the next generation tries to figure out in which direction it is headed.

Despite this trend (which I don’t find surprising), I am not bothered by the idea of Burris in the Senate – for now. I still think a person like him was the best choice to complete the Senate term of Obama, which only has this year and next to go before it is done with.

I would not have wanted a gubernatorial appointment, or some fluke special election, to give the advantage of incumbency to any candidate – thereby allowing that person to gain one of the top political posts in Illinois. I’d rather see the 2010 primary and general elections become a free-for-all, with the winner earning that top post. Burris, with his general knowledge of government procedure, is a caretaker, and an ideal one for the office.

Now let’s just hope that Burris can look at results such as this poll, along with a lot of other trends in the political culture, and figure out for himself that he is best off enjoying his two-year ride, then rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ himself back to his Gresham neighborhood home for a well-deserved retirement.

-30-

EDITOR’S NOTE: In other poll results, Lisa Madigan would whomp on incumbent Pat Quinn (http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/burris/1468666,CST-NWS-poll10.article) for governor, if the Democratic primary were now, instead of a year from now.

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