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Thursday, March 23, 2006 12:15 pm

Winners and losers

On with the Rod and Judy show

Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, Republican nominee for governor
At the Sankey Hi-Rise polling station early Tuesday morning, plows delegated to clear the snow that blanketed central Illinois seemed to be working against each other: Just as one plow managed to clear a patch of asphalt, the other one pushed the snow right back where it had been. In many ways the plow trucks were the perfect metaphor for one of the most interesting primary-election seasons the Springfield area has seen in a long time. The Republican gubernatorial primary culminated early yesterday morning — with about 95 percent of the votes tallied when Illinois Times went to press Wednesday afternoon — with state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka’s winning the nomination, but it may have caused irreparable damage to an already fractured state party. On the Democratic side, Ed Eisendrath received about 30 percent of the vote, a measure more of disenchantment with Gov. Rod Blagojevich than an endorsement of the poorly financed and little-known former Chicago alderman. In the fall, voters will have a choice of two candidates who a big chunk of their respective parties didn’t want to have the job. Frightening as that might sound, Christopher Z. Mooney — a professor of political studies at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield — cautions against reading too much into it. After all, that’s what primaries are for. First things first: The GOP must begin mending fences, a process that began at a “unity breakfast” in Chicago on Wednesday morning. With rancor so deep, there wasn’t a minute to spare, Sangamon County Republican Party chairman Tony Libri says that a breakfast meeting, rather than dinner, was scheduled so that the state party could start regrouping as soon as possible. “We are one team, [and] we have one goal: to make our town and community a better place,” Libri said on Election Day. Libri says that he expects “the White House” (Topinka has said that she’s spoken to presidential advisor Karl Rove about her candidacy) to make at least four appearances before fall to help Republicans raise money for Topinka and other candidates — something Topinka will desperately need in a race against Blagojevich, whose well-financed campaign unleashed a set of ads attacking Topinka as anti-middle-class just one day after the primary. The candidate who first defines the opponent has a big advantage, Mooney says. Gene Callahan, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon and a loyal Democrat, says that, in the end, Topinka was the strongest of the Republican field to challenge Blagojevich. Nevertheless, the strong performance by the GOP’s right wing surprised Mooney. Dairy owner Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Bill Brady got about half of the Republican vote. The Democratic primary for state treasurer was perhaps the most exciting race on the Democratic ticket, Callahan says, considering that Cook County’s African-American leadership was split between Obama-backed banker Alexi Giannoulias and the party-endorsed candidate, Knox County State’s Attorney Paul Mangieri, who had hoped to overcome the newcomer’s Chicagoland support with a big downstate showing.  In the race for the 99th House District, in which Sangamon County Board member Sam Cahnman took out Springfield Ald. Chuck Redpath, the difference was likely Cahnman’s advisory referendum to move Illinois to an open-primary system, in which voters would not have to declare party affiliation. Cahnman also blitzed the television airwaves, unusual in a state House primary. Redpath, who had the party’s machine behind him, ended up looking flat-footed. By far the biggest winner Tuesday was Cahnman’s open-primary proposal, which was approved by more than 75 percent of Springfield voters. Callahan says that Cahnman may be on to something. “As an old-timer, I like our system, but change is a-coming,” he says.
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