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Thursday, May 11, 2006 09:41 pm

The contender

Meeks’ poll has good news — but not necessarily for Topinka

State Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, has continually brushed aside suggestions that he wouldn’t run for governor on a third-party ticket, saying last week, for instance, that he is encouraged by the results of a new poll he commissioned, the results of which show him actually in the race. The survey was taken April 25-30 by Washington, D.C.-based pollster Lester & Associates and has a margin of error of 3.9 percent. The Meeks poll has some bad news for Gov. Rod Blagojevich but also a rare spot of good news. According to the survey, Gov. Blagojevich’s “generic” reelection numbers are not that great. When asked whether he deserves reelection, just 36 percent of respondents say yes, compared with 55 percent who want someone else. Nine percent say they don’t know. Blagojevich’s job-approval rating is 35 percent, with 45 percent disapproving and 20 percent not knowing. But even with those lousy numbers, for the first time since the primary Blagojevich is leading Judy Baar Topinka, 47-40. When Meeks is tossed into the equation, Blagojevich leads with 41, Topinka has 34, Meeks has 12, and 13 percent are undecided. After several “push questions” designed to test Meeks’ message of his religious affiliation, his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, and his support for billions more in school funding, Blagojevich drops to 37 percent and Meeks and Topinka are tied at 25 percent each. Undecideds remain at 13 percent. This last result, with Blagojevich still leading after the push questions and Meeks hurting Topinka much more, could help Meeks ward off critics, especially in the black community, who claim that his candidacy would destroy the Democratic governor’s chances. This is pretty much exactly where Meeks said he needed to be to even consider a run. Meeks said shortly before the poll was taken that he wanted, at a minimum, to be at 10 percent in the prepush horserace question and then have that doubled after the push. He’s exceeded both of those goals. Meeks also included a question about the arguments for and against his run. Just 27 percent agree with the statement that Meeks should not run because “an Independent African-American candidate from Chicago could doom Governor Blagojevich’s chances of winning reelection.” Fifty-six percent agree with the statement that Meeks should run “because the Democrats have taken blacks and others for granted and it’s time for a change.” Meeks still won’t say whether he has made up his mind about entering the race, and I’ll grant you that those postpush numbers are artificially high (as they usually are) — but what matters is not whether you and I believe he that he’s tied with Topinka at 25 percent but whether he believes it. Meanwhile, Topinka’s own polling shows that Blagojevich has moved ahead of her. After four straight independent polls with Topinka leading, her latest poll reportedly shows Blagojevich with a 5-point advantage. The governor’s polling also reportedly shows him ahead. The Blagojevich surge is undoubtedly the result of the governor’s television-advertising campaign. The guv is spending more than $500,000 a week, mostly on negative ads that attack Topinka for everything from not showing up for state investment-board meetings to her connection to George Ryan’s budget deficits. So far, the Topinka campaign has refused to respond in kind, preferring instead to blast back at the governor by way of press conference and press release. Even with the 5-point polling deficit, Topinka’s people point to Republican Jim Ryan’s 18-point deficit at this point in the campaign four years ago as proof that she is doing much better than others have. Dawn Clark Netsch was down 30 points to Jim Edgar at this point in 1994, the Topinka people say. But Republicans and others are still getting nervous about Topinka’s breaking the cardinal rule that TV advertising attacks should always be immediately answered. Netsch didn’t respond when she was attacked early, and neither did Glenn Poshard in 1998. Ryan also didn’t have the cash to immediately strike back in 2002. Still, Topinka’s campaign has believed that her poll ratings would carry her through for a little while. The Republican worries are compounded by the breathtaking collapse of support for Republicans on the national level in general and President George W. Bush in particular. They’re right. She needs to get in the game soon.
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