Monday, November 01, 2010

Election Day: Close races, big spenders, unhappy voters

By Jamey Dunn

As the candidates at the top of the ticket fly throughout the state trying to energize voters the day before the election, polls show Republicans have a slight edge in two close races.

A poll of likely Illinois voters released today by Public Policy Polling has U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk leading the race for U.S. Senate with 46 points to Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’ 42 points. The same poll shows Gov. Pat Quinn, with 40 points, trailing Republican Sen. Bill Brady, who has 45 points. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders are pouring money into General Assembly races. The Illinois Campaign for Political reform released a list today of 14 legislative races — seven from each chamber — where both candidates combined reported more than $1 million in campaign funds.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit campaign contribution database connected to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the total number of races with more than $1 million in spending will likely be closer to 16 when all is said and done. “Republicans are seeing opportunity. Democrats are playing defense,” Redfield said.

He added that in recent years, Republicans have had to spend more to fight for suburban districts. But with Democrats — who have a demographic advantage in Illinois — facing high levels of voter frustration and apathy, Republicans have more money to target downstate districts.

As for the possibility of a Republican-controlled Illinois House, Redfield said: “I would be surprised, but I wouldn’t be shocked. … If the Democrats stay home, and the Republicans go to the polls, you could get something like 1994 [when Republicans took control of the House.]”

Redfield said almost half of Brady’s campaign cash has come from national Republican groups. He says close races for Senate and the governor’s office in a state that is typically Democratic might have compelled national Republican organizations to spend more this time around. “Nationally, Republicans have not spent a lot of money in Illinois [in the past] because there really wasn’t much point.”

There has been heightened involvement from national parties in governor’s races across the country, due in part to the fact that states will soon be redrawing legislative districts.
“If you get a Republican governor, then that’s a stopper in terms of redistricting in Illinois,” Redfield said. Even if the General Assembly stays in Democrats’ hands, a Republican governor could refuse to sign off on any map they create.

A race thousands of miles away may also affect Illinois. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is battling in a close contest for his seat. If he loses and the Democrats hang on to the Senate, there is a good chance that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin would take over as leader for his party. Durbin said he has no plans to challenge Reid if he wins reelection.

“I have no idea what anyone else is doing, but I told Harry Reid, gave him my word, I would do nothing in any way whatsoever to angle for his position,” Durbin said. He’s the majority leader. He’s going to be reelected as the majority leader.”

Redfield said that even though it seems Democratic voters in Illinois are disaffected, Illinois Democrats would still be power players in Washington, D.C. “We [would] have the Senate majority leader and the president from Illinois. That would be interesting.”

The economic downturn and a campaign season of negative ads and divisive rhetoric highlighting the state’s and the country’s ills will do little to inspire voters, according to Redfield. “If people were depressed before about the economy after this election cycle, they are even more depressed. … Where are you going to cast a positive vote tomorrow night?”

That outlook is reflected in the Public Policy poll, which says that no matter who voters choose as their next U.S. senator and governor, they will likely not be satisfied. More respondents had an unfavorable opinion than a favorable one of Kirk, Giannoulias and Brady. More than half of respondents did not approve of Quinn’s performance as governor.

Besides picking candidates, voters will also have to decide if they want to add recall power to the Illinois Constitution. If more than 60 percent of people who cast their ballots approve the amendment, voters — with the backing of 30 legislators from both chambers and both parties — would have the power to recall a sitting governor.

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