After spending millions of dollars on unanswered television ads, Governor Rod Blagojevich has only an eight-point lead over Judy Baar Topinka, according to the latest poll.
The Research 2000 poll of 800 likely voters was conducted August 28 through 31 and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent. The poll found that Blagojevich was leading Topinka 47-39.
Back in January, Research 2000 had Blagojevich leading Topinka 45-37. Two months later, he was leading 47-40. Other polls recorded a bump for Topinka after the March primary, which is probably why the governor unleashed his multi-million-dollar advertising spending spree. But even after spending millions while Topinka spent nothing, he still hasn't managed to put Topinka away, and we're right back where we were at the beginning of the year.
The news coverage of the poll so far has pointed out that Blagojevich is still under 50 percent even after spending millions of dollars on unanswered TV ads. That's a valid point, and it certainly shows weakness. But Illinois isn't the only state where this is happening. The Democratic gubernatorial incumbents in both Wisconsin (Doyle) and Michigan (Granholm) are also under 50 percent right now. And in 10 of the hottest dozen gubernatorial races in the country, just two candidates are above 50 percent: Pennsylvania, where the incumbent Democrat spent lots of early money, and Ohio, where the Republican Party is in even worse shape than in Illinois. Apparently, nobody is all that popular this year.
Still, neither Blagojevich nor Topinka has to get to 50 percent to win this race because of the Green Party's Rich Whitney, who will definitely appear on the November ballot. The survey found that Whitney was polling at 2 percent. That isn't much, but it means that if Whitney finishes the race with the same 2 percent, the ultimate winner of this election will only need to get 49 percent plus one vote.
And considering that the poll found that 20 percent of African Americans said they were undecided, there's a very good chance that Blagojevich is probably at 50 right now anyway, since almost all of those undecided black voters will end up on Blagojevich's side. (Blacks are about 15 percent of the state's population, so 20 percent undecided would be 3 percent of the total population, and 47 plus 3 equals 50.) This tracks with a July SurveyUSA poll that found that 25 percent of African-American voters were either undecided or wanting another unnamed candidate.
The good news for Topinka is that some recent Democratic polling has shown that Blagojevich's support can be easily undermined. Also, at this point in 1998, the vastly underfunded, disorganized, message-less Glenn Poshard was trailing the well-funded George Ryan by about 20 points. An 8-point deficit after being buried by a six-month mountain of TV advertising is quite remarkable.
The governor has a big lead over Topinka among women, 50-35 with 13 percent undecided, so his expensive effort to demonize Topinka on social issues appears to have worked well with female voters. The two are essentially tied among men, 44-43 with 11 percent undecided.
The poll found that 15 percent of Republicans said they are less likely to vote for a Republican in the governor's race because of the George Ryan scandals, while 37 percent of independents said they would be less likely to do so. That compares to 11 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents who said they would be less likely to vote for Rod Blagojevich because of the questions about his hiring practices.
Almost a third, 29 percent, said they weren't aware of the yearlong federal investigations into the governor's office. That will likely change as Topinka's TV advertising begins in earnest.
Just 9 percent believed "corruption" was the most important issue in the race - one point ahead of "lowering gas prices" and two points ahead of "immigration." Topinka's ad campaign will have to change a lot of minds if she hopes to win.
Topinka will also have to hope that the governor doesn't successfully tie her to George Ryan or George W. Bush. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll found that Ryan had a 35-56 favorable-unfavorable rating, while Bush had an even worse 32-67 rating. Again, considering how the deck seems completely stacked against her, it's amazing that Topinka is still even a factor in this race.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and (http://www.thecapitolfaxblog.com).