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Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 06:38 am

Spoiler?

Whitney could crash the Democrats' party, and other predictions

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A lot has happened for Rich Whitney and the Green Party over the past six months.

With very little money, the Greens collected about 433 signatures per day between March and June, dodged a formal objection to their 39,000-odd petitions filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections, and became the first fringe party in Illinois history to have a full slate of candidates appear on the statewide ballot.

After the trial, conviction, and sentencing of former Republican Gov. George Ryan on racketeering and fraud charges, incumbent Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich immediately began using TV ads to link his Republican challenger, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, to Ryan.

But even as Blagojevich was busy kicking Topinka with one foot, he kept shooting himself in the other, and, remarkably, the approval ratings for both major-party candidates have sunk steadily.

With Election Day less than one week away, Whitney is now poised to be more of a factor in the governor’s race than most would have predicted.

According to RealClearPolitics.com, which publishes an index of major polls in key contests, Blagojevich’s lead over Topinka is 11.8 percent as of Wednesday morning.

Although Whitney has insisted throughout his campaign that there is no spoiler in the governor’s race and that his is not a protest candidacy, his presence definitely complicates things for the governor.

With Whitney’s poll numbers showing him sitting between 12 and 14 percent and another 9 percent of voters undecided — to say nothing of the Stu Levine and Tony Rezko factors — Blagojevich should be nervous.

Last week, the gov’s campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix told the Northern Star, the student paper of Northern Illinois University, that “there are probably a lot of things people don’t know about Rich Whitney,” which could be an indication that the Blagojevich camp intends to dip into its war chest to take Whitney down a couple of pegs in the next several days.

Why not? They’ve got money to burn.

Besides, Blagojevich needs to shore up votes among several groups that have historically been in his corner but whose support has cooled.

Both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Illinois Education Association chose not to endorse the governor, and a recent survey by the Illinois Association of Minorities in Government revealed that its members favored Topinka in the governor’s race but preferred Democrats in every other race for constitutional office.

One very interesting thing about this race is how quiet those on the left have been about Whitney’s taking votes away from the liberal Democrat Blagojevich and possibly handing the election to Topinka, a moderate Republican.

Syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who is the editor of an alt-weekly in Seattle — a city with more trees and as many people willing to hug them than anywhere — said recently that the Greens and their supporters are tools of Republicans and the radical right.

In 2000, Green presidential nominee Ralph Nader drew the ire of some liberals, who felt that he helped George W. Bush beat Al Gore, and, by implication, Greens are responsible for everything that’s happened since.

But even if Blagojevich loses and the Greens’ chunk of votes is bigger than the governor’s loss margin, Whitney will likely be spared the vitriol of Democrats, who just aren’t that excited about their guy.

This isn’t a high-stakes election. No matter who wins on Tuesday, affirmative action, abortion rights, and gay rights will all remain intact, because all three candidates have expressed support for these issues to one degree or another. Voters will be less afraid to cast a vote for the underdog.

Now, a few predictions:

In general, the midterm elections will serve as a referendum on the president and Republican-led Congress, and nationwide voter turnout will be high. However, with our major-party candidates carrying on like siblings vying to be the next student-council president, voter turnout in Illinois will be relatively low.

Also, the race for Illinois’ 99th House District, between Republican state Rep. Raymond Poe and Democratic Sangamon County Board member Sam Cahnman, will be close — and even if he loses, it won’t be the last we hear of perennial candidate Cahnman.

Finally, an advisory referendum in Springfield that calls on the president and Congress to “commence a humane, orderly, immediate and comprehensive withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel and bases from Iraq” should — and will — receive strong support from local voters. The measure appears on the ballot largely in part because of the efforts of local student and activist Michael Ziri.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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