Southern-Illinois District Looks to Be a Challenge for Democrats Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 15 July 2012 09:40

A poll taken last week has Republican congressional candidate Jason Plummer leading his new Democratic challenger by 11 points.

The poll, taken July 9 by We Ask America, found Plummer ahead of Democrat Bill Enyart 45-34. The automated poll of 1,510 likely voters had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Plummer is significantly below 50 percent, and 23 percent of voters are undecided, so he doesn’t have this one in the bag yet. Enyart was appointed to the ballot late last month, so he has barely had any time at all to make an impression on the voters of the 12th Congressional District.

It appears that Enyart’s newness is hurting him with fellow Democrats. While Plummer is backed by 79 percent of Republicans, Enyart is supported by just 62 percent of Democrats. More than 29 percent of Democrats are undecided, so as they “come home,” Enyart should tighten this race up some more. Just 43.5 percent of African Americans are supporting Enyart right now, according to the poll, and that will definitely increase. And a full 28 percent of independents are undecided, compared to 25 percent who support Enyart and 46 percent who back Plummer. Again, we will probably see some of those folks move toward Enyart as he becomes better known.

In theory, this is supposed to be a district drawn for Democrats. Longtime incumbent Jerry Costello currently represents the 12th.

In reality, though, the district was drawn to re-elect Costello. When he dropped out of the race, he helped engineer the appointment of Brad Harriman to the ballot. Harriman was an incredibly weak candidate and couldn’t put a decent campaign together, so the district went up for grabs. Harriman had to go, and he dropped out last month, citing an unnamed medical condition.

Enyart retired as the Illinois National Guard’s top general shortly before he was appointed to the ballot. Generals, like mayors and sheriffs, don’t always make the best candidates because they are accustomed to barking orders, not taking them. He’s never run for any office before this one, and he’ll have to raise a ton of money to defeat Plummer. He also has no combat experience to highlight during his campaign.

And Enyart is a Metro East guy, which may not play well in the more "southern" portions of the district. His campaign points out that he led the National Guard’s efforts during the 2011 flood, which hurt several southern counties, and that he has family in the southern section (Sparta) and opened his first law office in Monroe County. Still, though, he’ll be perceived as St. Clair County’s guy, which, in fact, he is. He was also appointed to the National Guard post by Rod Blagojevich, and his law firm twice contributed small sums to Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

Perhaps the best news for Democrats in this district is that President Barack Obama appears to be doing a little better than expected. Just under 46 percent of voters approve of Obama’s job performance, while 52 percent disapprove. Yes, he’s upside down, but Obama has not been doing well at all outside Cook County, and he’s been doing especially bad in southern Illinois. A 46-percent approval rating is better than some had figured.

The president will undoubtedly be a drag on Democrats up and down the ticket in many areas of the state if he doesn’t improve his standing soon. Some Democratic state-legislative incumbents nave been targeted for defeat in the 12th Congressional, including Senator Bill Haine and Representatives Dan Beiser and Jerry Costello II. They’ll need a stronger performance from the president and a much better Enyart effort to help them hold on to their seats.

According to the poll, almost 54 percent of the district’s likely voters oppose “Obamacare,” the national health-care-reform law. Only 70 percent of Democrats support the law, compared to 87 percent of Republicans who oppose it. That’s obviously not great news for Democratic candidates.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.