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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005 05:10 pm

Eager for Edgar

Numbers show why GOP pins its hopes on the former governor

Another poll shows Jim Edgar, a former governor, with a commanding lead over Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Taken late last month for the Judy Baar Topinka campaign, the poll has Edgar leading Blagojevich 51-38.2.

Edgar led everywhere except Chicago, where Blagojevich held a 63.4-26.7 advantage. Edgar’s largest margin was downstate, where he was creaming the incumbent 62.5-26, but Edgar also led in suburban Cook County (50.7-40.3) and the collar counties (54.0-34.4). The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percent. The margins of error for the regional results are much higher, of course.

The results are not much different than earlier polls have reported.

What makes this particular poll significant is that the governor’s people claimed in May, after a survey by the Chicago Tribune showed the governor’s numbers in the basement, that their poll numbers are “always” bad in the spring but bounce back in the fall. Well, we’re almost to autumn, and the governor is still tanking. The rule of thumb is if poll numbers stay down too long, they’ll tend to stick there. If these numbers are the same in October, it will take a herculean effort to get Blagojevich in a position to win, even with all of that cash in the bank.

The governor had slightly better news from SurveyUSA, a nonpartisan polling firm, which showed Blagojevich’s job-approval rating stuck in the high-30-percent range in recent months. The polling firm did not release its August tracker because of the Hurricane Katrina devastation. I called last week and was told that the August results will be released with the September numbers. I’m not allowed to publish the August numbers yet, but suffice it to say that the governor’s job approval jumped somewhat, finally putting him above 40 percent. The firm polls 600 Illinois residents every month, with a margin of error of about 4.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Topinka’s poll had her leading Blagojevich 43.8-39.5. The treasurer was held under 50 percent everywhere except downstate, where she had a 54.1-28 lead, but she led Blagojevich in all regions except Chicago. Topinka is widely considered the Republican front-runner if Jim Edgar opts out of the race.

The Topinka poll also asked whether likely voters trusted Blagojevich with state finances. Fifty-one percent said no; just 40.6 percent said yes.

Illinois House and Senate Republicans are undoubtedly praying for another Edgar run. The Senate Republicans are losing an astonishing number of members to retirement or higher office next year and will have to defend several districts that weren’t considered competitive while the current incumbents were still running.

Several House Republicans are considering running for those Senate vacancies, which will force House GOP leader Tom Cross to raise far more money than he did during the last cycle.

Some potential candidates, particularly those who would be put up against Democratic incumbents, are telling the party’s leadership that they’re waiting to see what Edgar does before they decide. If Edgar runs, the Republicans will most likely be able to recruit more and better candidates. If he takes a pass, their recruitment could hit a snag.

An Edgar candidacy would go a long way toward calming Republican nerves.

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