Evans-Novak Political Report

Illinois Primaries Could Go Either Way

Tomorrow’s Illinois primaries feature three races that could really go either way. We stick with all of our calls from two weeks ago.

Governor

As long as the verdict against disgraced former Gov. George Ryan (R) does not come down this evening, liberal state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka (R) should win the GOP primary by a short margin over Jim Oberweis (R) and a crowd of others. Topinka has a low ceiling of support in Republican primary, but she benefits as Oberweis and Bill Brady (R) split the conservative vote.

Oberweis made some late strides with an ad that depicts Topinka and Ryan dancing at a state fair — the "pay to play" polka. If Oberweis pulls it off, that ad will be credited. Topinka, on the other hand, began as the frontrunner with superior name ID, and has worked to run out the clock. Her backing by popular former Gov. Jim Edgar (R) has deflected much of her opponents’ last-minute negative campaigning.

A note: Topinka is probably the weakest candidate the Republicans can field in the general election. Even if she makes it through the primary before the Ryan verdict is handed down — and everyone expects him to be convicted — she will be associated with Ryan as soon as it does come down. In a year when the obvious strategy is to run against embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on an ethics platform, the Republican candidate, if it is Topinka, will be denied that luxury.

Topinka is also very unlikely to get as much as 40 percent of the vote tomorrow, meaning that two of every three GOP primary voters will have supported someone else. Leaning Topinka.

Illinois-6

If Christine Cegelis (D) wins this race, it could be the most embarrassing day of DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel‘s (D-Ill.) life so far, a clear sign that his political skills are overrated.

Emanuel, who represents an adjacent district, spent months looking for someone to prevent Cegelis from becoming the candidate. He eventually settled on Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth (D), who does not live in the district and apparently lacks grassroots support there. He helped her raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a very short period of time, and pitched Duckworth’s life story to every sympathetic reporter he could find in Washington, to great fundraising effect. But the question is how effectively all that money and all that press can be used at such a late stage to turn out the Democratic vote in this Republican district.

Cegelis has harnessed resentment at the national Democrats’ interference. Despite the fact that she desperately lacks money, she has strong grassroots support, and her signs dot lawns across the district.

This one will be very close. The winner, whoever it is, will begin the general election almost bankrupt, far behind Republican candidate, State Sen. Pete Roskam (R). Leaning Duckworth.

Illinois-8

Opinions on the ground differ, but we believe that attorney Kathy Salvi (R) will win this one relatively comfortably, aided by the late endorsement of former Rep. Phil Crane (R). Of course, Crane’s endorsement is unsurprising — it comes after Salvi’s opponent, investment banker David McSweeney (R), primaried him in 1998 — but Salvi has made good use of it by targeting primary voters with Crane’s recorded message.

McSweeney, who earlier was the frontrunner, appears to trail by a few points now. He has been going negative for about three weeks, with attacks against both Salvi and State Sen. Bob Churchill (R) serving as a sign that his own campaign agrees with the perception that he is losing. Salvi and Churchill have also gone negative at the end (Churchill denounces both of his opponents as "bored millionaires"), creating a very ugly finale to what had been a surprisingly tame campaign.

McSweeney has won many newspaper endorsements, and he locked up many local party endorsements early on. But Crane’s endorsement and that of former candidate Teresa Bartels (R) should cancel out that advantage. Churchill cannot win, but he will drain off some of McSweeney’s support (this is the reason McSweeney is attacking him), and Salvi benefits from being the only woman in the race to take on freshman Rep. Melissa Bean (D).

Both of the top candidates are basically conservatives (each with some minor apostasies from the conservative line), and so this race is mainly about personalities and electability, not ideas. Leaning Salvi.


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