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 are stacking up. We'll look at the rest of the pack next week.

• Judy Baar Topinka - Her supporters say her ideological moderation and tough fiscal record make her the most electable Republican against Governor Rod Blagojevich. While 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 since 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 that she wins the Republican primary but is so hobbled by a brutal campaign that she can't defeat Blagojevich, or whoever ends up with the Democratic nomination.

• Congressman Ray LaHood - The Republicans are in rebuilding mode after the twin disasters of the 2002 and 2004 elections. Primary voters might 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 DC.

LaHood is a pro-life, 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 (and that's still a big "if").

• Jim Oberweis - I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. 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, which he used at the beginning, he might have won the GOP U.S. Senate primary.

The immigrant attacks still hound 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.

The problem with Oberweis is that he chooses issues (such as opposing teacher tenure) that allow him to only pick up voters who exist on the margins. If he can move beyond his past and focus on some broad, positive ideas (and, so far, he hasn't really talked about any), he could break the 20-percent mark and make a real run at Topinka. Otherwise, he might finish second yet again.

• 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 himself 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 makes 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 forces people like 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.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (

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