March 27, 2002


 Both victors in the March 19 primary for governor – Republican Jim Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich – failed to fulfill their pre-primary expectations. Ryan expected to win his nomination with at least 50 percent; instead, he finished with 44.7 percent. Blagojevich expected to win his nomination with at least 40 percent; instead, he finished with 36.6 percent.

Nevertheless, Blagojevich goes into the November election as the early favorite, simply because there are twice as many plausible reasons as to why he will triumph than there are as to why Ryan will triumph.

Here’s  Blagojevich’s advantages:

First, Illinois is trending Democratic in a major way. Al Gore beat George Bush in 2000 by 569,605 votes (54.6 percent). Incumbent Governor George Ryan won in 1998 by just 119,903 votes (51.1 percent) against a Democratic opponent who could not unite the party’s liberal base. Jim Edgar won in 1990 by just 83,909 votes. Clearly, the state is ripe for the election of a Democrat as governor.

Second, Blagojevich goes into the election with a united party behind him, since there is no compelling reason for any committed Democrat to back Jim Ryan. Blagojevich was mightily embarrassed by his poor showing in Chicago, where his father-in-law,  Alderman  Dick Mell (33rd), ran his campaign. Blagojevich, a Chicago congressman, finished third, with 135,682 votes (28.6 percent), to Roland Burris’s 199,404 (42 percent), and Paul Vallas’ 140,236 (29.5 percent).

Despite a Northwest Side blizzard of Blagojevich lawn signs, and an army of precinct workers, Blagojevich still lost to Vallas in the 41st Ward (6,839-4,580), 45th Ward (6,052-5,712), 40th Ward (3,525-3,108) and 50th Ward (3,766-3,654), and barely carried the 39th Ward (4,126-4,065) and 47th Ward (4,855-4,552). He won much bigger in the 38th Ward (5,434-4,396), 36th Ward (6,474-4,163), 30th Ward (4,495-2,749) and in his home 33rd Ward (5,731-2,368). The bad news for Blagojevich is that a lot of people compared Blagojevich to Vallas, and found Blagojevich wanting, The good news for Blagojevich is that Jim Ryan is not Paul Vallas, and the vast majority of the Vallas vote will go Democratic in November.

Likewise, Burris finished first in Chicago because he got upwards of 85 percent of the black vote. Edgar got about 12 percent of the black vote in 1990, and George Ryan got ten percent in 1998. But Jim Ryan has no special appeal to minorities, and Blagojevich will get 90 percent-plus of the black vote in the election.

In the 1998 election, George Ryan lost to Glenn Poshard by 238,237 votes in Chicago, while fellow Republican Peter Fitzgerald lost the city to Carol Moseley-Braun by 407,189 votes in the U.S. Senate race. Because Poshard was a conservative Democrat – anti-abortion, pro-gun, and anti-gay rights – a significant chunk of liberals abandoned him and opted for Ryan. That won’t happen in 2002. Liberals, gays, blacks and abortion rights backers will stick with Blagojevich, and he’ll win Chicago by close to 500,000 votes.

Fourth, the Republicans are fractious and disconsolate. The state legislative remap was a body blow. The Democrats will keep control of the Illinois House, and likely win the Illinois Senate this year. The governorship is all that prevents a total state wipeout. But Jim Ryan’s primary foes, Pat O’Malley and Corrine Wood, did their utmost to undermine Ryan’s integrity, stature and credibility. Ryan garnered 409,349 votes. O’Malley got 260,196 votes (28.5 percent), a noted improvement over Pat Buchanan’s showing in 1992 (186,915 votes) and 1996 (186,177); but those hard-right conservatives will return to the Ryan fold, as they won’t vote for a liberal like Blagojevich. But Wood’s 245,626 voters (26.8 percent) are another matter, as many of them voted for Wood because of her pro-choice position on abortion (while Ryan opposes abortion rights). If more than a quarter of them defect to Blagojevich in November because of the abortion issue, Ryan is in big trouble.

Fifth, Blagojevich, a youngish and charismatic 45, will campaign circles around the staid Ryan who, at age 56, seems a generation older. Blagojevich raised and spent close to $7 million in the primary, and has set a goal of $20 million for the election.

And sixth, expect Blagojevich to play his ethnic roots like a banjo all through the campaign. Blagojevich will try to craft an image as a fresh and energetic face, will try to avoid taking liberal positions on issues (or fudge his previous liberal stances), and will stress his roots as the son of a Serbian immigrant (while shifting focus away from the fact that he is the son-in-law of a Chicago alderman). If he looks like a winner, Democrats will get enthused, and will turn out in huge numbers to back him.

 To counter Blagojevich’s six advantages, Ryan has a paltry three:

First, there is an enormous professional and personal stature gap between Ryan and Blagojevich. Ryan was DuPage County State’s Attorney for ten years (1984-94), and has been state Attorney General for the past eight. Also, Ryan is a cancer survivor, and lost his daughter to an unexpected illness. Going into 2002, Ryan was much respected for his personal courage and professional integrity.

But O’Malley did a number on Ryan, accusing him of not investigating George Ryan (who was then Secretary of State) during the 1995-98 period. Jim Ryan said he didn’t because he thought the U.S. Attorney was doing so, and it turns out that they weren’t. Is that dereliction of duty? By November, expect that Blagojevich’s TV ads will have painted an image of Ryan as Illinois’ most inactive and inept attorney general ever. Ryan must rebut that perception, and do it quickly, before his credibility suffers even more.

Second, Blagojevich has a liberal voting record through ten years in Springfield and Washington, and opposes school vouchers. Edgar isolated Dawn Clark Netsch as a liberal with an early onslaught in 1994, and she never recovered. Again, Ryan must go on TV early to define Blagojevich as inexperienced, and as too liberal for Illinois.

Third, Ryan must run like gangbusters Downstate. The perception was that the Chicagoan with the funny name (Blagojevich) wouldn’t sell Downstate, but it was Blagojevich’s Downstate vote that compensated for his weak Chicago showing. Party leaders in Saint Clair, Madison, Winnebago, Peoria, Tazewell and Rock Island counties delivered margins of   6-1 to 2-1 for Blagojevich.

In 1998, Poshard, from Downstate Marion, lost his home area over Ryan by  just 3,839 votes, while Fitzgerald won Downstate by 322,223 votes. In short, a black, liberal Chicagoan (Moseley-Braun) didn’t sell Downstate. Will a white, ethnic, liberal Chicagoan (Blagojevich) do any better? If Ryan doesn’t come out of Downstate up by 300,000, he’s a loser. He must win the collar counties by more than 200,000, to offset Blagojevich’s expected margin in Chicago and Cook County of  at least 500,000.

And fourth, what does Mayor Rich Daley do? Does he really want a young Democratic governor? Or is he more comfortable with a Republican like Ryan? Daley didn’t do much to help Poshard in 1998. If Ryan is to win, he needs Daley to sit out this year’s contest.

The outcome of the Ryan-Blagojevich race will be determined by what happens on TV in the next few months, and which candidate goes negative first.. Ryan must rehabilitate himself, reintroduce himself to voters by emphasizing his character and life experiences, and define the race as that between competent conservative (himself) and inexperienced liberal (Blagojevich). Blagojevich is not yet clearly defined to Illinois voters; so it is imperative that Ryan does the defining. He must also make clear that abortion is not an issue in the race. That means Ryan must raise and spend over $1.5 million real quick.

Blagojevich, who intends to spend the summer touring Downstate in his Winnebago with his wife and daughter, must keep chipping away at Ryan. Wood called Ryan an “extremist,” and O’Malley blasted Ryan’s “inaction” on the Secretary of State scandal. Those charges took hold. Blagojevich must keep hitting Ryan on those issues, and define himself as the vehicle for “change” in Illinois government.

Ryan’s job is to re-educate Illinois voters as to why in the past they thought he was such a great guy, and to educate them as to why Blagojevich is a lightweight who is not up to the job of governor. Blagojevich’s job is to tear down Ryan, spread the brush of corruption on all Republicans, make the election a referendum on George Ryan, and make himself the vehicle for change.

Of  the two tasks, Ryan’s is the more difficult. That’s why Blagojevich, who is already ahead in the polls, is the favorite to win.

(Next week: An analysis of the 5th Congressional District primary results.)