Heading Into the Holiday “Dark” Period, Hynes Is in Trouble Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 22 November 2009 06:21

The original hope of Dan Hynes' Democratic gubernatorial campaign was that it could outspend and beat up Pat Quinn on TV by Thanksgiving to the point where the governor was vulnerable in the February 2 primary.

Early benchmark polling for Quinn had him leading Hynes 54-26, with other polls showing similar results. Hynes' name ID was a relatively low 67 percent, compared to Quinn's 88 percent.

Since then, Hynes has spent close to $2 million on TV ads, but Quinn has matched him pretty much dollar for dollar. And while Hynes stopped running network TV ads on November 11 and went dark on cable last week, Quinn was up with a positive bio ad last week on both network and cable.

The governor has raised more money much faster than many people expected, given his historical aversion to the activity. Quinn has also run a much better, tighter, and more visible campaign than many had expected. The governor is getting "earned" media coverage on the all-important Chicago TV almost every day, and the state's multi-billion-dollar capital construction bill has allowed him to cut ribbons all over the state, which is something Hynes simply can't match.

Recent polling conducted by other statewide Democratic candidates shows Quinn ahead of Hynes 50-38 and 50-35, sources say.

While clearly demonstrating that the race is significantly tightening, the polling shows Quinn has not yet been brought below 50 percent - a crucial benchmark for all incumbents, even though there are more than two candidates in the race at this point. (Both of the second-tier candidates face petition challenges, however, and could be booted from the contest.) At least one of those polls has Quinn with about a two-to-one favorable rating, which shows that Hynes' ads haven't yet succeeded in roughing up the governor.

The Hynes people believe they have significantly closed the gap and are now in a position to make the final four-week run beginning in January. But big questions remain about what the "dark" period - when nobody is running ads - between now and January will do to the polling numbers. Will Hynes fade back to the status-quo ante? Or will his numbers roughly hold steady while voters' attentions turn to decidedly unpolitical things? There are reports from inside that Hynes plans to run a Christmas ad in December, but that will be a purely positive message and won't do much to bring Quinn down.

Because Hynes hasn't yet fully put the governor on his back, there are those who believe that the comptroller's campaign message won't really work in the final four weeks, either. I have said publicly that I believe this race could be over by Thanksgiving if Hynes didn't have Quinn bleeding from every political orifice by the traditional holiday-season kickoff date - after which negative ads would likely be a huge liability. He doesn't appear to have done that to Quinn, but I'm not quite ready to pronounce Hynes' campaign officially dead, although everybody would have to admit that he does face some very, very difficult odds.

Both campaigns have indicated privately that polling and focus grouping show that Governor Quinn's proposed income-tax hike "works" much better against him than attempting to tie Quinn to his ousted predecessor and two-time running mate Rod Blagojevich. Hynes has focused his advertising on the tax issue, but the ads clearly haven't put Quinn down yet.

It's not known whether Hynes will attempt to somehow use the Blagojevich issue in his January ad campaign. Quinn has a pretty solid reputation for honesty among voters, and he is probably seen as a "safe" choice considering the last two governors. They also clearly want to see him succeed and have so far given him something of a pass on his many stumbles in office.

That hopeful voter attitude could all fade by next fall, after Quinn has another legislative session under his belt, but February 2 is just around the corner. After this week, there are really only about four campaign weeks left, and every candidate who can afford it will be up on TV come January. There will be a lot of cash flowing, and messages will easily be buried under all the clutter.

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

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