November 15, 2006


The good news for Illinois Republicans is that Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich won a second term.

The bad news for Illinois Democrats is that Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich won a second term.

In a nutshell, Republicans hope that Blagojevich will replicate the fate of both George Ryan and Dan Walker and be the next Illinois governor to go to jail. And Democrats, who want to install state Attorney General Lisa Madigan as governor in 2010, are fearful that 4 years of indictments and convictions of Blagojevich fund-raisers and state officials -- and maybe even Blagojevich himself -- will ensure a Republican takeover in 2010.

In his victory speech, Blagojevich pledged to make "progress" during the next 4 years. One of his goals surely will be to raise another $25 million to fund his 2010 third term bid. Unfortunately for Blagojevich, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald also will make some "progress" in his investigation of what he termed "pay to play on steroids" in state government. There will be more indictments and convictions.

That's the state Republicans' "Plan A" to retake the governorship in 2010. Blagojevich won in 2002 because of voter revulsion over George Ryan. Republicans hope that Blagojevich will evoke similar revulsion and that the Republican candidate will win in 2010 because of it.

But there is no Republican "Plan B." What if Blagojevich is not indicted? Or what if Madigan or state Comptroller Tom Hynes is the 2010 Democratic candidate for governor? Then who is the Republican who can win? Right now, there's Joe Birkett and Jim Oberweis. Both are losers.

As demonstrated by Judy Baar Topinka's pounding in 2006, the Republicans' suburban base is withering. As set forth in the adjoining vote chart, the Republican vote in Cook County's suburbs and in the Collar Counties of DuPage, Lake, Kane, Will and McHenry has imploded. George Ryan carried the Collar Counties by 248,167 votes in 1998, and governor's candidate Jim Ryan carried them by 147,338 votes in 2002; on Nov. 7 Topinka carried them by just 30,230 votes. That's a decline of more than 100,000 votes in each of the past two elections.

Notably, Blagojevich won Lake County by 6,361 votes and Will County by 6,405 votes counties, while Topinka won what was once rock-solid Republican DuPage County by 29,488 votes, Kane by 5,478 votes and McHenry by 8,030 votes. For any Republican, that's like the Titanic hitting the iceberg.

Blagojevich won statewide by 252,080 votes in 2002, while this year, according to unofficial returns, he won by 329,948 votes, an uptick of 77,868 votes. But his percentage declined from 52.2 percent to 49.5 percent and his vote total declined from 1,847,040 to 1,638,652. He won 35 of 102 counties in 2002 and 32 in 2006. More than half of the state's voters picked somebody else. Blagojevich won because his media onslaught made Topinka less objectionable than he is.

But the Republican vote is waning. George Ryan got 1,714,094 votes (51.1 percent of the total cast) in 1998, Jim Ryan got 1,594,960 votes (45.1 percent) in 2002, and Topinka got an unofficial 1,323,902 votes (40.1 percent). That's a falloff of almost 400,000 votes.

The Libertarian Party candidate got 2.1 percent of the vote in 2002, while this year Green Party candidate Rich Whitney got 10.5 percent of the total, or nearly 350,000 votes. Clearly, a substantial number of Illinois voters couldn't stomach either Blagojevich or Topinka.

The key to Blagojevich's victory was his campaign warchest, the bulk of which came from state appointees, employees and contractors. That enabled him to launch saturation television ads to discredit Topinka, blasting her as some kind of goof. "What is she thinking?" was the refrain.

In 2002 Blagojevich won the Cook County suburbs by 50,924 votes and lost the Collar Counties by 147,338 votes. This year he won the Cook County suburbs by 84,246 votes and lost the Collar Counties by only 30,230 votes -- a turnaround of 117,108 votes.

Conventional wisdom in Illinois is that, to triumph statewide, a Republican must win Downstate by 200,000 votes and the Collar Counties by 200,000 votes and lose Cook County by fewer than 400,000 votes. Recent presidential results demonstrate that impossibility. In 2004 George Bush won Downstate by 187,789 votes and the Collar Counties by 104,733, but he lost Cook County by 805,857 votes and John Kerry won statewide by 513,335 votes. In 2000 Bush won Downstate by 78,784 votes and the Collar Counties by 97,616, and he lost Cook County by 746,005 votes as Al Gore won statewide by 569,605 votes. The Republican vote is growing Downstate, but shrinking elsewhere.

The last successful statewide Republican was Topinka, who won her third term as treasurer in 2002 by 396,965 votes, with 54.8 percent of the total. She carried the Collar Counties by 291,469 votes and Downstate by 277,965, and she lost Cook County by 172,469 votes. Had she duplicated that showing for governor, she would have won. Of course, in the earlier race she didn't have a foe who spent $25 million demonizing her.

George Ryan won in 1998 by demonizing Democrat Glenn Poshard as pro-gun, anti-abortion rights and anti-gay, making Ryan the "moderate" in the race. He lost Chicago by just 238,237 votes, won the Cook County suburbs by 109,973, won the Collar Counties by 248,167 and lost Downstate by 3,589, winning the election by 119,903 votes. The message here is that, in Illinois, the least conservative candidate wins.

In 2002 then-Attorney General Jim Ryan was demonized by Blagojevich as a pro-gun, anti-abortion rights, anti-gay "extremist" -- with great success. And in 2006 it was deja vu all over, with Blagojevich ripping Topinka as opposing an assault weapons ban, as "George Ryan's treasurer" and as a "George Bush Republican." In Illinois, it is evident that the least liberal candidate for governor loses.

If recent trends persist -- especially as exemplified by the 2006 race to succeed Topinka as treasurer -- no Democrat will lose statewide in Illinois any time soon, unless they're indicted. The new state treasurer is the barely qualified Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat who won by 403,656 votes.

Going into his second term, Blagojevich has some advantages:

First, he can forget about running for president, which was his ultimate ambition, and concentrate on running Illinois. Barack Obama is the current Democratic superstar in Illinois, and Blagojevich is lost in his dust. If Hillary Clinton is the Democrats' nominee for president in 2008, she -- or anybody else -- will opt for Obama as their running mate, rather than Blagojevich, with his baggage.

Second, Blagojevich spent his first term trying to define himself as an "independent," thereby infuriating the Democratic legislative leadership. Now, no thanks to him, the Democrats have a veto-proof (over 60 percent) majority in the Illinois Senate (37-22), and Speaker Mike Madigan has a solid majority (66-52) in the House.

The Republicans are irrelevant. Blagojevich must make a choice. Does he propose an agenda that will be opposed by the Democratic majority? Or does he work with them?

Unless Blagojevich has a record of "accomplishment" by 2010 -- which is more than just opposing a sales or income tax hike or uttering some TV sound bites -- then the governor could face serious opposition in the 2010 Democratic primary. Republican Jim Thompson won re-election three times and served 14 years, from 1977 to 1990. If scandals don't touch Blagojevich and if he keeps raising $25 million per campaign cycle, he could win again in 2010 and 2014, surpassing Thompson's record for longevity.

Of course, if Blagojevich gets indicted, he's toast, and if he's convicted, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn ascends to the top spot. That would prompt a nasty Democratic primary between Quinn and Madigan, and possibly Hynes.

When concocting a third-term strategy, Blagojevich must remember that Illinois' economic predicament is brightening. More tax revenues are accruing. That means the Democrats in the General Assembly will want to spend more, so he has a tough choice: Go along and be a good Democrat or act like a Republican and push for spending decreases and debt retirement.

So who beats Blagojevich in 2010?

The governor's base in Chicago has diminished. Democratic committeemen are not backing him. His 2006 city vote was 50,577 lower than in 2002. That means that in 2010 he must raise another $25 million for saturation television ads, and that won't happen if the feds are monitoring every contribution.

Hard-core Republican conservatives are jubilant that the "liberal" Topinka lost, and they hope that a right-wing Republican will win in 2010. Don't count on it.

The GOP field for 2010 includes Birkett, the DuPage County state's attorney who lost races for attorney general in 2002 and for lieutenant governor in 2006, Oberweis, who lost primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2004, and Downstate state Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, who got 133,065 votes (18.6 percent) in the 2006 primary, finishing third. Birkett and Oberweis would lose, as too conservative. Brady could win.

The slam-dunk winner in 2010 would be U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, if he ran for governor as a Republican.

The bottom line: Blagojevich will not win a third term.