October 23, 2002


One of the lamest of sports or political clichés is that “it ain’t over until it’s over.”

As far as the Illinois governor’s race is concerned, it’s over. Democrat Rod Blagojevich will win. But many presumptive Blagojevich voters are already experiencing “buyer’s remorse,” with growing doubts as to Blagojevich’s credibility and competence.

That remorse, however, will not reach epidemic proportions. With each  passing day, Republican Jim Ryan chips away at Blagojevich’s lead, but the Democrat will nevertheless triumph, for three reasons:

First, Blagojevich is not George Ryan. Voters want a change, and don’t believe that Jim Ryan is that change. Blagojevich is the right candidate at the right time.

Second, Blagojevich is not a Republican. Voters want a Democrat for governor.

And third, Blagojevich has a pulse. He does not need to articulate any reason to elect him (which  he certainly has not done). He need only avoid making any stupid mistakes or comments, and be alive and breathing on Nov. 5. Blagojevich’s campaign has been breathtaking in its platitudes, and astute in its evasions. Blagojevich has made many promises – from free presciption drugs for seniors to more teachers in classrooms to more police officers to more college scholarships – all of which will cost plenty of money. As to how he would pay for this, Blagojevich sounded like a Republican: he said he would cut the state bureaucracy, and raise cigarette taxes.

Illinois faces a dire fiscal situation, with a projected $1.9 billion “hole” in the fiscal 2004 budget (which begins in June, 2003). The state’s 2003 budget is $54 billion, and Governor Ryan estimates $300 million in revenue decreases and $1.6 billion in spending increases in the next year. Neither Blagojevich nor Ryan have specifically addressed the issue of a state sales and/or income tax hike – one of which is certainly inevitable in order to close that “hole.” If Blagojevich wins, his troubles will have just begun.

There is no question that Blagojevich has peaked. The essence of any political campaign is to accrue momentum, and develop enthusiasm incrementally through Election Day – peaking in late October. Voter revulsion toward Governor Ryan, and the ongoing license-for-bribes scandal, coupled with Jim Ryan’s inept campaign, gave Blagojevich a huge poll lead over the summer – somewhere between 11 to 18 points, with margins ranging from 47-35 to 52-34. But support for Blagojevich was predicated on the fact he was not George Ryan, and that he was the Democratic alternative – in short, he was the vehicle for “change.” Had the governor been indicted, Blagojevich would have won in a blowout.

But George Ryan was not indicted, and Blagojevich’s edge has markedly receded. His performance in the debates with Jim Ryan has been less than impressive, and some voters are having serious misgivings as to whether Blagojevich has the smarts and competence to be governor. There are many who disagree with Jim Ryan’s positions on certain issues (such as abortion), but there is no doubt as to his administrative competence.

While there has been an ongoing diminution in Blagojevich’s support, there has not been a sea change. He is still ahead, and will finish with about 53 percent. Given the fact that Jim Edgar won by a 914,468-vote margin in 1994, which was 63.8 percent, and that George Ryan won by a 119,603-vote margin in 1998, which was 51.1 percent, a prospective 53 percent win for Blagojevich will amount to a margin of about 300,000. That’s a lot less than most Democrats were expecting, but it’s still substantial.

As can be discerned from the adjoining vote chart, both parties in Illinois are exceedingly well-matched in off-year, non-presidential elections. In fact, if the vote for each party’s candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and comptroller was averaged in the last five elections (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, and 1998), the parties are at an absolute parity: 1,588,159 for the Democrats, and 1,587,349 for the Republicans.

Party vote, however, peaks when the respective party base is energized. In 1982, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, and a major recession, Democratic turnout surged, and their statewide average vote was 1,970,567. In 1994, with Republicans energized to send Bill Clinton a message, Republican turnout surged, and their statewide average vote was 1,724,779. In 1998, the Clinton impeachment energized Democrats, but not by enough to win both the governorship and the U.S. Senate seat.

In sum, the Democrats’ average 1994 vote was almost 300,000 below their five-election average, and the Republicans’ about 150,000 above their average -- and the Republicans won every statewide office. In 1982, when turnout exceeded all expectations, the Democratic vote was about 400,000 more than average, and the Republicans’ about 25,000 more than average – and the Democrats won three of five statewide offices.

Nationally, in 2002, it is the Republican base that is more energized. They will come out heavily in support of President Bush and his war policy and conservative agenda. Democrats, and minorities in particular, feel no great animosity toward Bush, and that will depress their turnout. The sluggish economy, quite surprisingly, will not prompt a big anti-Republican vote.

But, in Illinois, the Republicans are distinctly unenergized. Governor Ryan’s liberal agenda has infuriated many party conservatives, and Jim Ryan has presented no great vision as to how he would govern the state. So many Republicans won’t vote, and the usual Democratic vote, coupled with the I-don’t-want-George-Ryan vote, will be more than sufficient to elect Blagojevich.

Unlike 1998, when Democrat Glenn Poshard’s credibility exceeded his electability, the reverse is apparent in 2002. Blagojevich’s electability exceeds his credibility. Poshard won Chicago by just 238,237 votes (449,603-211,366) over Ryan. Poshard’s anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay rights stance cost him dearly. Blagojevich, who is backed by Democrats of all ideological stripes, and who has an intensive get-out-the-vote effort, should win Chicago over Jim Ryan by at least 475,000 votes. Interestingly, some close allies of Mayor Rich Daley are being resistant toward Blagojevich dispatching his workers into their wards. Expect Daley’s allies to deliver, expect black turnout to be low, and expect Blagojevich to win huge in the city.

In the Cook County suburbs, George Ryan topped Poshard by 109,973 votes, running especially well (for a Republican) in liberal areas like Skokie, Evanston and Oak Park. The Republicans’ suburban base has dwindled in each successive election over the past 30 years, and will diminish further in 2002. Jim Ryan has no special appeal to Democrats, and he will be lucky to get 45 percent. That means Blagojevich will win the Cook County suburbs by 95,000.

Downstate, and in the collar counties, Blagojevich’s  pro-abortion, pro-gun control stance is a tough sell. But, to triumph, Jim Ryan has to carry those areas by more that 570,000 in order to offset Blagojevich’s Cook County bulge. That just won’t happen. In 1998, Ryan won 59 counties Downstate, to Poshard’s 42; Ryan won the six collar counties (DuPage, Lake, Kendall, Kane, McHenry and Will) by 244,578, but Poshard won Downstate by 3,589 votes.

My prediction: Jim Ryan is a former DuPage County state’s attorney, but he won’t win his home base massively.  In 2000, George Bush beat Al Gore by just 48,487 votes in DuPage, which was way less than George Ryan’s 104,168 margin in 1998, and much less than Edgar’s 1994 margin of 133,847. Ryan will carry DuPage by about 75,000, and will win Downstate by over 200,000. But that still computes to a Blagogevich statewide victory of nearly 300,000.

Ryan’s supporters are fervently hoping that the rumored Blagojevich “indiscretions,” hinted at by Mike Madigan, surface before the election. That won’t happen, because they really don’t exist. But the growing number of voters who now deem it indiscreet to vote for Blagojevich has made the governor’s race much closer than anticipated.

The developing upset: Ten-year incumbent Rosemary Mulligan should be safely entrenched in the northwest suburban (Park Ridge-Des  Plaines) 65th House District. But Mulligan’s pro-choice stance on abortion, coupled with her desire to run to succeed longtime U.S. Representative Henry Hyde (R-6) when he retires, as expected, in 2004, at age 80, has angered a lot of local conservative Republicans. They would love to see her get beat.

Mulligan won in 2000 by just 1,329 votes over Democrat Mary Beth Tighe, and she is trailing in her 2002 race against Democrat Barbara Jones, a Park Ridge Democrat who is an assistant Cook County state’s attorney. Abortion is not an issue this year, as it was in the past; Jones is as pro-choice as is Mulligan. My prediction: Jones will win by 1,200 votes.