Byline: Madeleine Doubek Daily Herald Political Editor
Roland Burris attracted attention last week when a tape showed him suggesting one of his three "white boys" opponents withdraw.
That is the last thing he should want. Burris is benefiting by battling against three white competitors who still are not nearly as well known as the 16-year state government veteran, a new Daily Herald/ABC 7 poll shows.
Former attorney general and comptroller Burris leads the four major contenders for the Democratic governor's nomination with 34 percent of the vote, the survey shows. Downstate Congressman Glenn Poshard tallies 20 percent, while former U.S. associate attorney general John Schmidt attracts 17 percent, a statistical tie for second place. Former federal prosecutor Jim Burns gets 11 percent, 1 percent goes to two other little-known candidates and 17 percent remains undecided.
On the Republican side of the ballot, Secretary of State George Ryan of Kankakee posts a commanding lead - 88 percent to 5 percent - over retired Gilberts commercial pilot Chad Koppie for the GOP's governor nomination.
The survey of Democratic and Republican likely primary voters was conducted Feb. 22-March 3 by Richard Day Research Inc. of Evanston. Interviewing was done after Burris' comment about his white opponents. It had no effect on anyone's support, said pollster Jeff Andreasen.
The poll findings indicate Ryan's strategists may get the fall match-up they privately acknowledge they would like: a contest against Burris who has the least financial support among the Democrats.
"He's the most known and he automatically starts with most of the black vote," Andreasen said of Burris. "He's got a lock on that."
Burris benefits from 73 percent support from black voters who typically make up one-quarter of the total Democratic primary vote. Andreasen said history indicates black candidates like Burris can expect to tally about 90 percent of the black vote on Election Day.
But after four terms in statewide office and attempts at two other top spots, Burris also grabs one-fifth of the white vote, the poll finds. The remaining 80 percent splits among the multiple white candidates.
Burris simply is much more familiar to voters than his competitors. Only Burns has run for statewide office before and Burris touts his experience in state government at every opportunity.
While Burris is known to 85 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, Burns is known only by 57 percent. Poshard is familiar to 52 percent and Schmidt is familiar to just 49 percent, the survey shows.
Burns was born downstate but he and Schmidt remain largely unknown to downstate voters, while Poshard remains largely unknown in the Chicago metropolitan area that typically produces two-thirds of the Democratic primary vote.
Though Burris tallies only about one-third of the total primary vote in the poll, he remains in a strong position in such a fractured field.
"Even if all the undecideds were to break to one candidate, it'd be a dead heat," Andreasen said, "but that's very unlikely."
Those who are undecided tend to be older voters and those who live in the collar counties, where Schmidt and Burris are tied for support.
Burris ran in 1994 as the sole black candidate leading against two white contenders only to whither with few financial resources by Primary Election Day. His opponents are working to see if they can make that history repeat itself.
A steady drip of criticism has been raining down upon Burris in recent weeks as his opponents recognize they must try to force him to fade. Friday was no exception. …