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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 02:44 am

Fading away

Polls show that Topinka has steadily lost ground since the primary

Rod Blagojevich and Judy Baar Topinka don’t agree on much, but their campaigns concurred last week, saying that Blagojevich is leading in the polls.

Blagojevich campaign staffers say that their latest poll shows the Democratic governor leading the Republican treasurer 47-31, a seriously large advantage. Topinka’s campaign has Blagojevich ahead 44-37, a far narrower gap.

Meanwhile, the latest poll from an independent source, the Rasmussen Report, has Blagojevich leading 45-34, which is right about in the middle of the two candidates’ poll results. Still, Topinka’s polling during the spring primary matched up almost exactly with the Chicago Tribune polls, which turned out to be pretty accurate come primary day.

The governor’s poll has him leading in every region of the state except downstate, where the two candidates are tied 37-37. Topinka’s poll has her leading in every region except Cook County and Chicago, where the governor has a 60-30 advantage. Keep in mind when reading all of this that the regional breakdowns have a much larger margin of error than the overall statewide poll does.

According to the Blagojevich poll, the governor leads in Chicago 67-14, has a 51-40 advantage in the Cook County suburbs, leads in the usually heavily suburban collar counties 44-36, and is tied downstate 37-37. The governor’s poll, of 604 likely voters, was taken July 5-7 and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent. Pollsters went into the field right after a week of heavily negative news stories appeared about alleged corruption within the governor’s administration.

Because large numbers of African-American voters usually tend to not tell pollsters how they’re going to vote until very late in campaigns, even though they almost always break the same way (Democratic), it’s likely that Blagojevich can count on being significantly closer to 50 percent right now than his poll would indicate. The other demographic that tends to “break late” is older women, but we don’t know how they’ll go this year.

Topinka’s poll has her leading in the Republican collars 44-39, ahead 57-33 in northern downstate, up 43-37 in central Illinois, and out front in southern Illinois 43-40 — but trailing badly in Chicago/Cook 60-30. Topinka’s poll was conducted July 10-13. Six hundred likely voters were surveyed, and the poll had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

The governor has spent millions of dollars on TV ads since the March primary, whereas Topinka’s campaign is trying to raise as much money as possible for a more traditional late ad blitz. The governor probably has enough money to stay on TV throughout the rest of the season, so he can keep his heel on the Topinka campaign’s throat for a long time to come. Her numbers will eventually hit bottom, but the longer they stay down, the more difficult it will be to bring them back up again, particularly if the governor is still running negative ads (and he will be). Shortly after the primary, you will recall, Topinka was leading Blagojevich in most polls.

At this point in 2002, when then-Congressman Rod Blagojevich was running against then-Attorney General Jim Ryan for governor, Blagojevich was ahead of Ryan by 12 points, 48-36. Ryan eventually came back to make it a race, but he still lost by seven points. Throughout most of the 1998 campaign, Democrat Glenn Poshard was trailing Republican George Ryan by about 15 points. Explosive allegations of corruption late in the game caused that race to tighten considerably by the end of October, but Poshard still lost 52-48.

Like Topinka, Poshard was on the “wrong” side of some big ideological issues with his party’s traditional base, lacked a cohesive message other than “the other guy is a crook,” and, because he didn’t raise enough money, had to depend on the media to bash his opponent for him. Poshard was outspent $15.2 million to $5.9 million. Blagojevich may have spent as much money since March as Poshard did in the entire fall campaign.

There’s more good news for the governor. Of the four Midwestern governors up for re-election this year (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan), Blagojevich has the largest lead of any of them, according to recent polling.

There’s a long way to go, however, and the Topinka campaign is convinced that really big problems await this governor in the coming days, weeks, and months.

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