This Time Topinka Is the Fresh Face Why Topinka Is Neck-And- Neck with Blagojevich
Krol, Eric, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer
Back in spring 2002, Republican governor nominee Jim Ryan trailed Democratic foe Rod Blagojevich in early polls by nearly 20 percentage points, a margin he spent months trying to erase to give donors and interest groups a reason to think he could win.
Four years later, a trio of early polls show Republican standard bearer Judy Baar Topinka with a small lead over Blagojevich.
In a state that's long been trending Democratic, why is Topinka doing so well?
Political analysts and political science professors say it's because Blagojevich has had more than three years to amass a record and that Topinka's last name is not spelled R-y-a-n.
"The most important thing is that when you've got an incumbent, the election is a referendum on the incumbent," said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "Four years ago, Blagojevich was a fresh face with a clean slate. Since then, there's been a lot of unhappiness, not just among people who would normally vote Republican."
Three polls taken since the March 21 primary show Topinka with small leads over Blagojevich that are within the margin of error.
Rasmussen Reports, an independent pollster, showed Topinka with 43 percent compared to 41 percent for Blagojevich with a margin of error of about 5 percentage points. Another independent pollster, the Glengariff Group, showed Topinka up 44 to 41 percent with a 4- percentage-point error margin. And earlier this month, a private poll conducted by a major Illinois business group showed Topinka with a 4-point advantage.
Contrast that with four years ago, when one media poll showed then-Attorney General Jim Ryan trailing Blagojevich by as much as 52 percent to 34 percent within a week of the primary.
Republican strategist Dan Curry of Wheaton, who served as Jim Ryan's spokesman, called 2002 "probably the most negative climate for the Republicans (in Illinois) in the modern era. Since right after Watergate."
Like most political observers, Curry blames then-Gov. George Ryan's scandals for Jim Ryan's early poll woes.
"In 2002, Republicans and George were the issue and Rod Blagojevich just had to show up. This time, Rod Blagojevich is the issue," said Curry, who's now a strategist for Topinka's running mate, DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett. "He's squandered the ethical high ground he inherited. The voters have seen multiple federal investigations and they understand they've been misled."
Blagojevich political consultant Pete Giangreco attributed the governor's current standing in the polls to a trend common to neighboring governors of both parties struggling to reach 50 percent approval ratings.
"It's all over the Midwest, where the Bush recession has hit hard. These places haven't come all the way back yet," Giangreco said. "We've had a long way to dig with (George) Ryan's budget deficit. Basically, the message is that if you want to keep Illinois moving forward, re-elect Rod Blagojevich. The alternative is the bad old days."
Blagojevich also has had to govern the past four years and the political omelets can't be made every year without breaking some proverbial eggs. …