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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 08:55 am

Something to Stu over if Jim Ryan runs for governor


Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and State Senator Carl Hawkinson, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in 2002.

You may have read the news by now that former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan is seriously considering another run for governor. Ryan commissioned a poll which shows him leading the GOP pack and running neck and neck with Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes and trailing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn by five points.

That ain’t bad considering Ryan’s been out of politics since he lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Rod Blagojevich.

Ryan’s last name, however, will always be a liability in the wake of George Ryan’s conviction and imprisonment. Of those polled, 19 percent thought Jim Ryan was the former governor, for instance, and only 10 percent knew he was the former attorney general. Ryan’s name identification in the poll is only surpassed by Gov. Quinn, although Ryan’s negatives are as high as Quinn’s — likely because of that toxic last name.

Ryan’s name was one of his biggest liabilities in the 2002 race, but the trend at the time away from the Republican Party in Illinois certainly hastened his downfall as well, and his poor campaign didn’t help much, either.

And while times are different now and George Ryan is long gone from the scene, Jim Ryan will face a major new problem if he pulls the trigger this time around.
Two words: Stu Levine.

Levine, of course, pled guilty to using his seats on two state boards to pad his pockets with kickback money. His indictment shocked the Illinois political world because it included lurid details of Levine’s heavy hard drug use and wicked sexual appetites.

Levine and Jim Ryan were law school study mates and Ryan is generally blamed for bringing Levine to the political dance. After Levine was indicted, Jim Ryan was quoted by the Daily Southtown saying this about his longtime friend: “He’s always been a very compassionate person, and I always have liked and respected him, and I continue to call him a friend.”

Ryan has never been accused of any improprieties with Levine, but that was an unfortunate remark, to say the least.

A Chicago TV station did a brief report on Ryan’s potential candidacy the other day. The anchor read the story while the station ran some stock video of Ryan making a campaign announcement in 2002. The station didn’t notice that Stu Levine was on that tape, walking up to his old friend and whispering in his ear. Others did take notice, however. Lots of notice.

Guilt by association is distasteful and often just plain untrue. But the Republicans have been playing that card for months against Democrats for their association with Rod Blagojevich. They’ve even whacked Democrats who fought Blagojevich tooth and nail. So, turnabout would be fair play.

There were no questions about Stu Levine in that poll Ryan released last week. There also weren’t any questions about Ryan’s recent support for a broad tax hike on income and services, which won’t go down well in a Republican primary.

And while Jim Ryan may lead the GOP pack right now, he doesn’t exactly dominate it. Almost half (48 percent) of Republican primary voters remain undecided in the uninformed ballot test, according to Ryan’s own poll. Ryan does far better in a slightly informed ballot test (he’s called the former attorney general), but 30 percent are still undecided. And all those other establishment suburban conservative moderates in the race right now could be vulnerable to a more conservative type, perhaps Bill Brady, to lump them all together and take the win for himself.

Shortly after Ryan released his poll it was learned that former Gov. Jim Edgar was endorsing Sen. Kirk Dillard in the super-crowded Republican primary battle. Plain and simple, Edgar moves poll numbers. He is the most popular Republican — if not the most popular politician — in Illinois. If Dillard can raise the money to put Edgar in lots of TV ads, Ryan’s initial lead will dwindle.

And if Ryan’s past does become an issue, he could end up more vulnerable than almost any other Republican running right now.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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