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Thursday, March 16, 2006 07:48 am

Who’s going to win?

Our intrepid reporter predicts the outcome of next week’s election

Rich Miller is a smart guy. That’s why he’s a pundit. Miller, whose sage discourses appear in these pages, as well as in the political newsletter Capitol Fax, waved garlic and ran for his shotgun when we called the other day asking who he thinks will win come Election Day, March 21. “I don’t make predictions!” he screamed. “People who make predictions set themselves up to look like fools!” But we’re not proud — so, without further ado . . . The most intriguing race, of course, involves the five Republicans masquerading as rabid rottweilers in the gubernatorial primary. Time and again, the wiseguys report that polls show Judy Baar Topinka as the prohibitive favorite. Perhaps. But polls published by the Chicago Tribune show she’s lost two percentage points since early February and now stands at 36 percent. Judy-as-sleazebag attack ads, aired by Jim Oberweis, have had their effect, but don’t look for the dairy magnate to capitalize: Never holding public office plus losing twice in bids to the win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate equals milked dry, not the Executive Mansion. Topinka has snapped, crackled and popped as Oberweis pours it on. Last month she walked out of a radio debate in Chicago, allowing her opponents to team up in mocking her. Last week she played the victim game, claiming that Oberweis is bullying her because she’s a woman. She followed up by calling her opponents “morons,” a gaffe that forced her to shed the tough-broad persona and apologize the next day. If Jim Edgar’s shilling for her on TV didn’t prove it, this sure did: Topinka’s attackers are scoring, and she’s feeling the heat. It wasn’t that long ago that Topinka’s camp promised that this wouldn’t happen. “If you’re Judy, you just keep your cool, recognize the strategy and stick to the issues,” a campaign aide told the Tribune in January. “We’re not going to be mixing it up with those guys.” The worst of the slings and arrows has come from the Tribune, which has endorsed Ron Gidwitz, also known as Good-Moderate-No-Name-Familiarity — and he gains with each Oberweis attack as the undecideds ponder what Rod Blagojevich would do to a candidate who can’t put a milkman and a cosmetics salesman in their respective places. Topinka says she’s had enough: After four debates, she’s vowed not to mount any more stages with her opponents because she’s been bashed enough (cue up the violins, please). She’s either a frontrunner who figures that she’s untouchable or a realist who sees less to lose in silence than in taking shots head-on. Either way, it’s a risk — a de facto admission that she hasn’t been scoring knockouts and an open door for Gidwitz to pick up points just as the undecideds are starting to pay attention. Speculation on the possible effect of a verdict in the George Ryan trial is overblown. By now, most voters have made up their minds about whether the former governor is a crook. Forget about plurality. At press time, the over-under on Topinka was at a fluid 45 percent, with the smart money coming in on the “under” side. She’ll still win — but a finish with less than 40 percent wouldn’t be a shocker. No one likes a grenade-thrower, so look for a surging Gidwitz to sneak past Oberweis in a bunch finish of also-rans, with Bill Brady proving that nice guys do, in fact, finish last. Pity Knox County State’s Attorney Paul Mangieri, who had the misfortune to get into the state treasurer’s race at the behest of the state Democratic Party before Topinka decided to go for governor, which has left the post ripe for plucking. Alexi Giannoulias has got his ladder — and endorsements from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. — set up to win this battle of unpronounceable surnames. In Sangamon County, County Board member Sam Cahnman has been throwing away one $10,000 loan to his campaign after another in an attempt to beat Springfield Ward 4 Ald. Chuck Redpath in the 99th House District Democratic primary. It’s not going to happen. Percentage-wise, Cahnman will get pummeled by the open-primary advisory measure for which he spent countless hours gathering signatures to ensure its place on the ballot. The open-primary idea will also go down, but not by much. If anyone offers 5 points, bet on it.
Staff writer Bruce Rushton contends that pundits are a dime a dozen and worth half as much — except, of course, Rich Miller.
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