Now that the state’s political season is about to kick into a slightly higher gear, let’s take a moment to look at how some of the Republican candidates for governor stack up. We’ll look at the rest of the pack next week.
• State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka — Her supporters say that her ideological moderation and tough fiscal record make her the most electable Republican against Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Although she leads both Blagojevich and her GOP opponents in every recent poll, she doesn’t do as well with Republican primary voters as she should, considering her long statewide tenure.
Topinka will have enough money to compete against her GOP competitors, and because she is leading the pack she will undoubtedly be the focus of plenty of nasty attacks in the coming months. Her opposition will most likely play the George Ryan card against her at every opportunity in an attempt to convince voters that she is part of the “old way.”
The real danger for Topinka is winning the Republican primary but being so hobbled by a brutal campaign that she can’t defeat Blagojevich or whoever ends up with the Democratic nomination.
• U.S. Rep Ray LaHood — The Republicans are in rebuilding mode after the twin disasters of 2002 and 2004. Primary voters may be holding out for someone different — someone with no solid contacts to either George Ryan or the radical right. LaHood, if he stays in the race, could position himself as that person.
Nobody really knows whether LaHood is in this thing for the long haul. The early, early line on LaHood was that he was trying to use this race to pry something loose for himself in D.C.
LaHood is an anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay-rights conservative who allows himself to be billed by legions of sympathetic reporters as a moderate independent — and that makes him the candidate most feared by the Topinka campaign. If Topinka stumbles, LaHood could move into the lead — if, that is, he stays in the race.
• Jim Oberweis — If the milk magnate had started his 2004 campaign with those incredibly positive ads about Canadian drug imports, which he used at the end of the race, instead of the illegal-immigrant bashing that he used at the beginning, he might have won the U.S. Senate primary.
The immigrant attacks haunt Oberweis, who has tried to change the subject several times without success. His past makes him highly susceptible to charges from Topinka and others that he is unelectable in the fall. If voters care about that angle, Oberweis is toast.
• Ron Gidwitz — The former state school superintendent has plenty of cash and a strong business résumé, but he has been stuck at 1 percent (or less) in every poll taken this year and will need to spend an extraordinary sum just to get into contention.
Gidwitz formally announced his candidacy last month and was almost immediately hit with a series of stories about how his family’s company is a slumlord in Joliet. The local paper editorialized that the apartment complex fleeces taxpayers while “providing the latest in Third World living conditions to its unfortunate inmates.” Joliet is reportedly not the only place where the Gidwitz family has trouble with this particular issue, so we can expect lots more on this topic.
He’s weak on the stump and has not impressed local party leaders with his demeanor to date. His past advocacy for large education-spending increases make him susceptible to charges that he is a closet tax-raiser.
But his personal fortune, his high-priced advisors, and his dogged determination to stick with the race force people such as myself to take his candidacy seriously. So far, however, nobody else is. Still, it’s possible that he could come up with some great breakthrough ads and move forward. We’ll see.
More next week.