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Against the wind

Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

There’s not a lot that a state legislative candidate can do when his or her party’s presidential nominee starts to tank.

The presidential race drives turnout to the point where candidates lower on the ballot must struggle mightily to rise above the noise and get their messages heard by distracted voters.

And because there are no statewide races in Illinois this year, that means there are no truly high-profile campaigns to “break up” any presidential advantage or momentum.

Congressional races are all that state legislators have this year to cushion the blow from the top, and down-ballot candidates are increasingly placing their hopes on those contests.

After 2010, downstate Illinois looked like highly fertile ground for the Republican Party. If the GOP had fielded better candidates in the Metro East area near St. Louis, for instance, they might have picked up more seats in the Legislature.

But 2010 is little more than a memory these days, and although downstate still has several opportunities for Republicans, the north and northwest Chicago suburbs appear to be gaining importance. Lots of proud ticket-splitters in that area, along with some viable Republican congressional incumbents (Bob Dold and Joe Walsh), means it could be fertile ground for the Republicans.

The 29th Senate District might be one example. Arie Friedman (R-Highland Park) is running as a moderate Republican. He was slammed hard last month by the conservative Illinois Family Institute for claiming to be pro-choice, which the Republicans actually loved. They believe the attack will help Friedman with more moderate voters, and that’s the path to victory.

The Democrats thought they had this Senate district in the bag, along with both of its House districts (Reps. Elaine Nekritz and Scott Drury). But the area’s congressional races (especially Dold) have the Republicans believing they’re at least in the hunt in all three legislative contests.

Polling shows single-digit advantages for the Democrats in those three races. If Dold’s lead evaporates, then the GOP candidates further down on the ballot are probably cooked. If Dold hangs in there, the others might at least have a shot.

So far, Dold appears to be holding his own. The latest We Ask America poll taken last week had Dold up by almost four points.

The Senate Republicans are hammering Friedman’s Democratic opponent, Julie Morrison, of Deerfield, in the mailboxes these days. Two recent mailers highlighted Morrison’s struggles on three separate occasions to answer questions about where she stood on the state income tax increase.

The Republicans believe that once north suburban voters have “checked the boxes” on abortion, guns and other social issues, they’re open to listening to fiscal messages such as taxes. That worked well for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in the area when he was a congressman, and Dold has positioned himself the same way.

Friedman has a history of being conservative, however, so this is somewhat of a GOP makeover attempt, and the Democrats are saying voters won’t buy into it. They may very well be right. The Republicans may have needed a more moderate candidate there.

What looks to be a fairly close congressional race in the Quad Cities/Rockford/Peoria region is working to the Democrats’ disadvantage in state Sen. Mike Jacobs’ (D-East Moline) district.

Jacobs has made some major missteps in his career and has real problems with his Democratic base. And even though President Barack Obama will win the Senate district by a sizable margin, Jacobs still is struggling hard to defeat Republican Bill Albracht.

And Albracht is being helped against the prevailing presidential winds by U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling’s race against Cheri Bustos. The latest We Ask America poll taken last week had Schilling (R-17th) leading by about 2 1/2 points, while Obama led by about 7 points in the district.

This explains why the Illinois Republican Party chairman recently declared that most of his organization’s energy would be focused on congressional races this year. Simply put, the Republicans have to break up Obama’s momentum in his home state and create some of their own momentum in the congressional races to avoid a down-ballot disaster.

Obama helped the Republicans by performing badly in the first presidential debate Wednesday night against Mitt Romney. As a result, he lost some ground nationally and here in Illinois.

That doesn’t mean Obama will lose Illinois or even the election — George W. Bush badly lost his first 2004 debate to John Kerry and still won. But if Obama doesn’t regain his footing, it could mean that Republicans running for Congress and the Legislature won’t have to push so hard against the wind.

* The DCCC has slightly different numbers in the Schilling vs. Bustos race. From a press release…

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a new Anzalone Liszt poll showing Cheri Bustos gaining critical momentum over Congressman Bobby Schilling.

After overcoming a 9 point deficit in August, Bustos now holds the lead over Congressman Schilling 45 percent to 44 percent and is winning independents 39 percent to Schilling’s 37 percent.

This poll also shows that attacks on Congressman Schilling’s record of voting to end the Medicare guarantee just to give tax breaks for outsourcers are working, and Congressman Schilling’s popularity is tanking. President Obama is set to win big in Illinois 17th Congressional District as he did in 2008.

* The DCCC poll also has Obama with an 11-point lead in the district

Barack Obama holds an 11-point lead over Mitt Romney (51% Obama / 40% Romney), in a district he won by 21 points in 2008 (60% Obama / 39% McCain). Obama further consolidating his 2008 coalition could cause Schilling even more problems.

More on the Schilling race later today.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Shore - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 10:52 am:

    It’s one of your better columns of the year. The only thing I would add is that the missing piece right now is mark kirk and to people like Ari Friedman he could have really been a huge help with fundraising, their picture together on a mailer or at a rally.

  2. - Buddy G - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 1:04 pm:

    Mike Jacobs bringing Western Illinois to our district along with the sale of the Thomson prison after Bobby Schilling fought against this sale until August is helping Jacobs. Jacobs stood up to Schilling who wanted to sell the prison at a loss of $90 Million which is against the law as Jacobs pointed out. Eventually because Schilling could not get his Republican colleague in the house to agree with the Thomson sale Jacobs friends President Obama and Bustos godfather Sen. Durbin going around Schilling and getting full asking price is what is driving Schilling into the ground and Jacobs and Bustos into the drivers seat.

  3. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 4:08 pm:

    The suspense has been killing me all day Rich. Are you not posting the Schilling stuff today? I really want to see the race polled by a non-partisan group. So far all of the polls ahve been issued by the campaigns.

  4. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 4:09 pm:

    ===Are you not posting the Schilling stuff today?====


  5. - reformer - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 4:20 pm:

    How badly will a Walsh blowout hurt GOP legislative candidates in the NW suburbs? None of the races in the 8th are close except Sweeney vs. Moylan.

  6. - Shore - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 4:27 pm:

    It’s mcsweeney

  7. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 6:54 pm:

    Nice piece, Rich …

    Well done.

  8. - Deerfield Dem - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 9:13 pm:

    The We Ask America Poll of IL-10 has an equal sampling of Dems and Republicans when after redistricting there are far more Dems in the district than Republicans. The NYTimes reported that the district is the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican Member of Congress.

    If you properly sample the amount of Dems and Republicans with the current demographics of the district you will see that We Ask America poll actually shows Schneider with a small lead.

  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 9, 12 @ 9:26 pm:

    ===The We Ask America Poll of IL-10 has an equal sampling of Dems and Republicans===

    The universe is equal, yes. But that’s pre-weighting.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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