In 1998, at mid-summer, polls indicated that Republican George
Ryan was slightly trailing Democrat Glenn Poshard in the Illinois
governor’s race. But Ryan’s campaign had a strategy, and Poshard, a
Downstate congressman, had a weakness.
Poshard, through his 10 years in Washington, had voted against
gay rights, and had voted to restrict the availability of abortion.
Ryan’s strategy was to paint Poshard as some kind of insensitive
Downstate hick, to focus on Cook and the collar counties, and to entice
liberals and independents, who normally support Democrats, to vote for
Ryan because of Poshard’s unacceptability. Ryan’s strategy worked.
Now it’s 2002, and polls indicate that Democrat Rod Blagojevich
is significantly ahead of Republican Jim Ryan. But this time, Ryan
doesn’t have a strategy, and Blaogjevich doesn’t have any Poshard-like
weaknesses. As can be discerned from the adjoining vote
chart, Blagojevich voted a predictably liberal line on almost every
key roll-call, rarely deviating from his fellow House Democrats, and
only occasionally differing from super-liberal colleagues Jan Schakowsky
(D-9) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2). But that record will not be a
Blagojevich voted against the Bush tax cut, and against the
repeal of the federal gift and estate tax, the elimination of the
marriage penalty (which taxes couples at a higher rate than single
taxpayers), and every Republican effort to cut spending and taxes; he
supported campaign finance reform, abortion choice, the airlines’
bailout, increased agriculture subsidies and cloning, and opposed
fast-track trade authority for the president and new work requirements
for welfare recipients. He also opposed a congressional resolution
mandating time for “prayer and quiet reflection” for students in
Blagojevich adroitly straddled
some issues: He voted to expand federal law enforcement powers to fight
terrorism, but opposed broadened electronic surveillance. He voted for
“domestic partner” health insurance coverage, but opposed enforcing
an agency ruling that required the Boy Scouts to admit homosexuals as
members and scoutmasters. He voted for the $383.4 billion homeland
security appropriation, for $317 billion in defense spending, and for
admitting former Soviet bloc countries and republics to NATO, but
nuclear-tipped interceptors as part of the president’s missile defense
plan, opposed U.S. aid to
fight pro-communist guerillas in Colombia, and opposed the use of the
U.S. military for drug interdiction and border patrol (to stop illegal
aliens). He opposed the Republicans’ Patients’ Bill of Rights, and
opposed putting a cap on damages in health care lawsuits, but supported
the Democratic version.
Because the Service Employees
International Union was supporting his candidacy for governor, and
represented about 1,000 screeners from private firms, Blagojevich voted
against federalizing airport baggage screeners.
Schakowsky and Jackson, Blagojevich voted to allow Congress to
pass a law to ban flag desecration, rather than go through the lengthy
process of a constitutional amendment.
Also included in the vote
chart are Democrats Bill Lipinski (D-3), from Chicago’s Southwest
Side, and Luis Gutierrez (D-4), from Chicago’s Hispanic-majority
district, as well as Republicans Henry Hyde (R-6), from the western
suburbs, and Mark Kirk (R-10), from the North Shore suburbs.
Blagojevich’s district takes in Chicago’s Northwest Side,
Schakowsky’s the city Lakefront plus Evanston and Skokie, and
Jackson’s the far South Side and black-majority south suburbs.
Quite clearly, Blagojevich is the
Man in the Middle. He’s more liberal than Lipinski, a social
conservative who votes much like Poshard did. And he’s slightly less
liberal than Schakowsky, Gutierrez and Jackson. Kirk, who narrowly won
his seat in 2000, has carefully replicated the pattern of his
predecessor, John Porter: he is fiscally conservative, but quite liberal
on social issues like abortion and gay rights.
Schakowsky has ambitions to run
for U.S. Senator in 2004, but her very liberal voting record would
certainly enable her opponents, either in the primary or election, to
“do a Poshard” on her, isolating her as out of sync with the
majority of Illinoisans. Jackson wants to be Chicago’s mayor, and,
when he runs, his voting record will be a treasure trove for his mayoral
But the bottom line is this: Can
Ryan “do a Poshard” on Blagojevich? And the answer is no. Attacking
Blagojevich as too liberal on social issues is counter-productive. Ryan
has already run TV ads Downstate attacking Blagojevich as pro-abortion
and pro-gay rights. But the news media then made that a major story,
allowing Blagojevich to blast Ryan’s alleged “extreme” position
– opposition to all forms of abortion – and the result was a
solidification of Blagojevich’s liberal base. Ryan could try to paint Blagojevich as a
big-spender and foe of tax reduction. But, given the state’s dire
economic condition, the next governor will certainly have to raise taxes
and/or slash spending. A more promising avenue could be to attack
Blagojevich for his absenteeism; Ryan’s campaign claims that
Blagojevich missed half of the House’s roll-calls in 2002.
unlike Poshard, Blagojevich’s
voting record will not beat Blagojevich.