March 15, 2006


The ancient Greeks and Romans would often consult oracles. As does this column, oracles make predictions of future events. As is this column, oracles are occasionally wrong. And, as does this column, oracles never suffer discouragement or remorse.

So here, from the "Great Northwest Side Oracle," are my predictions for the March 21 primary election:

Overview: The primary has about as much excitement as a Super Bowl between Anchorage and Mobile. The degree of political tumult in Washington, D.C., Springfield and City Hall ensures that 2006 will not be a "status quo" election. Voters are not pleased with anybody's governance. But the pervasiveness of corruption and wrongdoing -- from Republicans in the Bush Administration to former governor George Ryan and from Democrats in the Daley Administration to Governor Rod Blagojevich -- perplexes and irritates voters. Which party do they blame or oust?

This primary looks like a "pox on everybody" election, with low voter participation. Primary turnout statewide was 1,824,806 in 1998 (of 6,747,376 registered voters), 1,748,191 in 2000, 2,321,875 in 2002 and 2,067,824 in 2004 (of 7,137,954 registered voters). Notably, turnout was higher in non-presidential year primaries. Thus far, 2006 is not 2002. It's resembling 1978, when turnout was a record low 1,481,534. That favors party-backed candidates.

Governor (Republican): Chivalry is not dead. And there's a definite perception that Republican gubernatorial candidates Jim Oberweis, Ron Gidwitz and Bill Brady are somehow beating up on the girl -- Judy Baar Topinka. Even though she's been the state treasurer for 12 years, the flippant and sassy Topinka suffers from a stature gap. She doesn't have the credibility of Jim Thompson or Jim Edgar. She's no "Great White Knight."

But the irritating and calculating Blagojevich has lowered the bar. Stature matters not. Now, anybody who knows truth from falsity, has a smidgen of integrity and has a pulse can be governor. Topinka, if nominated, will win because voters are increasingly repelled by Blagojevich.

Turnout in the Republican primary will be much lower than the turnout of 946,339 in 2002. That's not ominous for Topinka, who's running as the most electable candidate. Hard-core conservatives always turn out, but they always are outvoted by "establishment" (meaning party organization-backed) Republicans. In the 2002 primary the vote was 410,074-260,860-246,825 for, respectively, Jim Ryan, Corrine Wood and Pat O'Malley, the establishment, moderate/liberal and social conservative candidates. In that year's U.S. Senate primary, Oberweis got 259,515 votes, finishing second with 31.5 percent of the vote.

My prediction: Republican turnout will be 810,000. Gidwitz, who loaned his campaign $2.3 million, has been an utter flop. He'll get 10 percent of the vote, or 80,000 votes. Oberweis, who loaned himself $2.4 million, will get the customary 250,000 right-wing vote and a little more, garnering 290,000 votes. Brady, as the unknown, fresh-faced Downstater, will get just 95,000 votes. That leaves Topinka with 345,000 votes -- and a victory with 42.5 percent of the vote, roughly equal to Jim Ryan's 44.7 percent in 2002.

 Governor (Democrat): It's a battle of expectations, not actuality. In the 2002 primary Blagojevich got 457,197 votes (36.5 percent), in a turnout of 1,252,516. Now Blagojevich is the incumbent, and he supposedly is backed by the Democratic Party establishment. That should ensure him a win. But the key is: By how much?

My prediction: The thrust of Blagojevich's foe, former alderman Ed Eisendrath, is that Blagojevich is as corrupt as George Ryan. Arguably, the governor's ethics have been egregiously deficient, but certainly not as abominable as Ryan's. "Pay-to-play" -- meaning that those who donate to Blagojevich get state contracts -- is alive and well in Illinois, as it was under Ryan. The governor is already whining that he has "made mistakes" and that he wants a second chance. That's a great theme: I won't screw up as much in my second term.

Watch the numbers: Democratic turnout was 1,252,516 in 2002. It will be just over one million on March 21. A lot of Democrats want to send Blagojevich a message: Minorities and liberals are upset about his no-tax-hike pledge. Downstaters and Chicago committeemen are upset about the lack of state patronage. If Eisendrath gets anywhere near 450,000 votes, it means that the governor's Democratic base is fractured and that voters have rejected his please-forgive-me plea. Expect Blagojevich to win with barely more than 60 percent of the vote.

State Treasurer (Democrat): It's a case of monkey see, monkey do. Back in 1998 the Democrats slated 30-year-old Dan Hynes for state comptroller. His principal qualification was that he was the son of party powerhouse Tom Hynes, the former Cook County assessor and 19th Ward committeeman. In 2002 the Democrats slated 36-year-old Lisa Madigan for attorney general. She had been a state senator for 4 years, but her principal qualification was that she was the daughter of party powerhouse Mike Madigan, the Illinois House speaker and state party chairman.

This year Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, age 29, is running to replace Topinka as treasurer. His principal qualifications are that his father founded Broadway Bank and that as a bank vice president he donated liberally to Barack Obama in 2004. The Democrats slated Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri for the post.

Giannoulias' credentials are as flimsy as were Hynes' and Madigan's. Why not start at the top? Obama and U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. have endorsed him, which will boost his vote among blacks and liberals. He is spending more than $2 million of his dad's money. His television ads have been limp and lame. But 70 percent of the vote in a typical statewide Democratic primary comes from Cook County (and nearly 50 percent from Chicago), with 12 percent from the Collar Counties and 18 percent from Downstate.

The trend in recent history is clear: Downstaters only win when multiple Chicago-area candidates divide the Chicago-area vote. That happened in 1984, when Downstater Paul Simon got 556,757 votes (35.6 percent) in the U.S. Senate primary, topping Cook County aspirants Phil Rock, Roland Burris and Alex Seith, who got a combined 990,704 votes. And, most notably, it happened in 1998, when Downstate congressman Glenn Poshard won the primary for governor against three Cook County candidates with 357,342 votes (37.6 percent), in a turnout of 950,307.

An exception was 1986, when state Treasurer Jim Donnewald, the Downstate candidate, got 253,053 votes (29.4 percent), losing a four-man primary to Jerry Cosentino, who got 241,006 votes (30.2 percent), while Pat Quinn got 208,775 votes (26.2 percent) and Bob Hart got 112,646. One-on-one situations are unpredictable: In 1990 Quinn beat slated Downstater Peg Breslin 449,442-419,810 for the treasurer's nomination. In 1998 slated Downstater Mary Lou Kearns upset Quinn in the lieutenant governor's race 391,373-389,905.

Some Democratic committeemen from the predominantly white Chicago's wards and Cook County townships are exerting maximum effort for Mangieri. A few, such as Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), are backing Giannoulias, as are some black committeemen. To win, Mangieri must get 75 percent of the Downstate vote, 55 percent of the Collar County vote and 46 percent of the Cook County vote.

My prediction: Giannoulias' "piggyback" campaign -- vote for me because Barack and Jesse are for me -- has been a dud. But Mangieri's also been a dud. He has spent just over $300,000 and is still unkmown, and the Daley precinct machine ain't what it used to be. Expect a 15,000-vote win for Giannoulias.

Cook County Board President (Democrat): The fewer, the better. In the 1994 primary, in which Democrat John Stroger beat Aurie Pucinski and Maria Pappas, turnout was 626,457 and Stroger got 295,358 votes (47.1 percent). In 1998, when Stroger beat Cal Sutker, turnout was just 476,941 and Stroger got 345,974 votes (72.5 percent).

This year Stroger, who is Daley's most consistent and formidable black ally, faces a primary challenge from county Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who formerly served as Daley's chief of staff and as the Chicago Park District superintendent. It all comes down to this: Daley faces a tough 2007 mayoral re-election race, probably against Jackson. He needs to keep Stroger in place, since Stroger has placed thousands of blacks in county jobs, and many of those job holders are workers in the organizations of black aldermen and committeemen. Stroger is the "Black Godfather."

Without the glue that Stroger provides, Daley's black support evaporates and Jackson co-opts the entire black vote. Simplistic as it may seem, a Stroger loss in 2006 portends a Daley loss in 2007.

My prediction: Claypool has built a reform/independent/liberal/it's-time-for-a-change coalition, but he has to crack the black vote. The Stroger-Claypool race is a forerunner of the Daley-Jackson contest. Stroger (as will Jackson in 2007) needs at least a third of the white vote, and Claypool (as will Daley in 2007) needs at least a quarter of the black vote.

Despite epidemic corruption, expect a voter non-rising, not uprising. In a low turnout, Stroger will beat Claypool by 20,000 votes. Pro-Daley committeemen will deliver. But the 2007 turnout will be enormous, meaning that Daley is in serious jeopardy.