February 11, 2004


The 15 candidates seeking their respective Democratic and Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming March 16 primary are frustrated and irritated. So, too, are the voters.

The candidates are anxiously awaiting that magical, mystical political Viagra Moment, when the electorate becomes aroused, excited, and fully engaged. The electorate, conversely, is anxiously awaiting that magical, mystical political Ricin Moment, when the plethora of candidates, if not literally dropping dead, will at least drop off the media airwaves, and cease bombarding them with insipid, boring commercials. With the primary just over a month away, neither Moment is imminent.

What is imminent are a pair of too-close-to-call contests, with Blair Hull and Barack Obama surging to the front of the Democratic race, Dan Hynes fading fast, and Maria Pappas and Gery Chico going nowhere; and with Jack Ryan maintaining a precarious lead in the Republican race, with Andy McKenna and Steve Rauschenberger closing fast.

To predict the outcome, the following facts must be considered:

First, turnout in both party primaries will be low. Illinois is the 33rd state to hold a presidential primary or caucus. President George Bush is the unopposed Republican nominee. And John Kerry looks like he’s wrapped-up the Democratic nomination. Therefore, there is little to motivate voters.

Second, Democratic primary turnouts have been diminishing dramatically, while the Republicans’ have been inching upward. In 1984, when Paul Simon won a four-man Democratic Senate primary, turnout was 1,547,461; in the Republican primary, it was 627,712. In 1992, when Carol Moseley Braun upset incumbent Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary, turnout was 1,456,268; in the Republican primary, it was 608,079. In 1996, when Simon retired, Dick Durbin beat Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary, in a turnout of 790,055; in the Republican primary, when Al Salvi upset Bob Kustra, turnout was 791,645.

Third, the Democratic vote is increasingly concentrated in Chicago and Cook County, and is diminishing Downstate. In 1984, the total vote in Chicago and Cook County was 984,344, with roughly 119,000 in the five collar counties of Lake, DuPage, Kane, Will and McHenry, and about 580,000 Downstate. In 1992, the total vote in Chicago and Cook County was 864,193, with roughly 185,000 in the collar counties, and about 407,000 Downstate. In 1996, the total vote in Chicago and Cook County was 490,252, with just over 68,000 in the collar counties, and 232,000 Downstate.

All seven of the 2004 Democratic aspirants are from Chicago. None has any special geographic appeal to Downstaters. So where will the 2004 Downstate vote go?

In both 1984 and 1996, respectively, Downstaters Simon and Durbin won because they amassed a huge edge in their region. In the 2002 governor’s primary, which featured three Chicago candidates, Rod Blagojevich won by a narrow 25,469-vote margin, and finished third in Cook County (with 213,028 votes, to Paul Vallas’ 268,514 and Roland Burris’s 265,868). Blagojevich was rescued by his Downstate showing. Vallas beat Blagojevich in the collar counties by more than 29,000 votes, but Blagojevich, because of heavy Downstate advertising, and almost universal support by local Democratic county chairmen (along with influential area state legislators and congressmen), topped Vallas by over 91,000 votes in that region, in a total vote of just over 388,000.

Blagojevich is governor today because Vallas, who is averse to flying, failed to campaign Downstate, and failed to line up Downstate backing.

And fourth, there is no symbolism or motivating message in the 2004 campaign, nor does any candidate have a solid geographic, gender or ideological base. In 1984, Simon won because of his Downstate base. In 1992, Braun won because of her gender, buttressed by a huge black vote. In 1996, Durbin won because of his Downstate base, coupled with party endorsements in Cook County.

The ideology of the 2004 Democratic candidates ranges from moderately-liberal (Hynes and Pappas) to opportunistically liberal (Hull) to very liberal (Obama, Chico, Nancy Skinner and Joyce Washington). Obama and Washington are black, but Obama will get the overwhelming majority of the black vote. The Republicans, likewise, range from moderately-conservative (Ryan, Jim Oberweis, Chirinjeev Kathuria, John Borling, Norm Hill and Jonathan Wright) to very conservative (McKenna and Rauschenberger).

The messages of the candidates are distinguishable, but only if voters are paying close attention. Both Hynes and Pappas are on record as supporting the Iraq War. Obama calls it a “dumb war,” and Chico also opposes it. Hynes, Pappas and Hull are on record as supporting the Bush Aministration’s $87 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan, while Chico and Obama oppose it.  On gay marriage, only Chico supports the concept of same-sex marriages, while Hynes, Hull, Obama and Pappas support “civil unions.” All the candidates favor abortion rights.

Among Republicans, all are supportive of President Bush, except on the issue of a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. All except Oberweis, Rauschenberg and Wright support the president’s plan. The only outspokenly pro-choice candidate on abortion is Borling, a former Air Force major general and Vietnam prisoner-of war. Borling has been endorsed by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz).

Here’s my early predictions:

Democrats: Hull’s message, which assaults TV and radio with monotonous regularity, is vague and loaded with buzz-words. He attacks the Bush “tax cuts for the rich,” even though Hull sold his stock brokerage in 1999 to Goldman Sachs for $531 million, is certainly very rich, and is prepared to pump $40 million of his wealth into the campaign; he promises to deliver “affordable health care,” but doesn’t say how he will pay for it; he yaps about “creating jobs,” and says that he will do so with federal dollars – which, presumably, come from eliminating the “tax cut for the rich”; and he claims that he is a onetime union worker whose Chicago brokerage firm “took on” Wall Street insiders, and became the “envy” of Wall Street. That’s absolute gibberish; brokerage firms exist to make money for investors, not to fight other firms.

But Hull’s presence trumps his message. If you see the guy enough on TV, or hear him enough on radio, he begins to be credible. Hull is taking a page out of Jon Corzine’s New Jersey playbook. Corzine, a Goldman Sachs chairman, netted $300 million when his company went public in 1999 with a $3.66 billion stock offering. Corzine ran for senator in 2000, spent  $63.2 million, beat a former Democratic governor in the primary, and narrowly beat a Republican congressman in the election (by just 90,973 votes). Overall, Corzine got 1,511,237 votes in the election, which means he spent $41.82 per vote to triumph.

Hull has pledged to spend at least $40 million of his own money to win, and he reported $12,680,861 on-hand (through 12/31/03), of which $12,598,069 came out his pocket, and spent $12,154,347. According to news reports, Hull transferred over $6 million of his own money into his campaign in January, and political sources indicate that Hull will pour another $5 million of his wealth into media ads through the remainder of February and into March, with an especially heavy concentration Downstate.

By comparison, Obama has raised just over $3 million (and spent $1.2 million), Hynes over $3.4 million (and spent $1.6 million), Chico over $3.2 million (and spent $2.4 million), and Pappas $247,462 (and spent $46,118).

To win, Obama needs to win over 90 percent of the black vote, in a heavy turnout. That would be 180,000-200,000 votes in Chicago and Cook County. Obama also needs another 75-90,000 votes from white liberals. Obama has been running radio ads in which U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) touts his commitment to civil rights. Obama needs to energize his black base, and he will likely do so.

To win, Hynes needs 150,000 votes in Cook County, and another 75,000 Downstate. Like Blagojevich in 2002, Hynes, the state comptroller, is backed by most Downstate county chairman and politicians. Hynes needs to come out of Chicago with more than 125,000 votes, and that looks dim at this time. Also, Hull is taking crucial Downstate votes away from Hynes. Pappas’ campaign has been a bust, as she has not been a visible presence. Chico’s base is among upscale voters, as key Hispanic politicians have endorsed Hull.

My prediction: In 2002, Democratic turnout in the governor’s race was 1,252,516. Burris, with strong black support, got 363,591 votes (29.1 percent). In 2004, turnout will be just over 1 million, and Obama will get just over 275,000; but Hull will finish strong, and get 290,000, to Hynes’ 230,000, with the remaining 205,000 scattered among Pappas (100,000), Chico (70,000), Washington (25,000) and Skinner (10,000). And, with another $25 million to spend, Hull will enter the November election as the favorite.

Among Republicans, past primaries have been contests between  “establishment” and “insurgent” candidates. In 1984, incumbent Chuck Percy won, but in 1996 and 1998, insurgents Salvi and Peter Fitzgerald triumphed. In 2004, there is no clear distinction between the candidates, and no “establishment” contender. Ryan has spent the most money, with McKenna a close second; Rauschenberger has little money, but has a network of Downstate support from fellow legislators.

In a turnout of 490,000, Ryan will top McKenna by 20,000, with Rauschenberger a close third.