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Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010 01:02 am

This looks like the Republican year of 1994

There is no doubt whatsoever that Republicans in this state have every reason to cheer and Democrats have all the reasons in the world to grumble.

Republicans have a fired up, angry base that can’t wait to vote. The Democratic base is morose, embarrassed at its party’s failures and is in no mood to even think about voting.

Numerous pollsters and prognosticators have pointed to the eery similarities between the public’s mood now and at the same point in the huge Republican year of 1994 – the last time we had a Democratic president facing his first midterm election.

The latest national CNN/Opinion Research poll found that the “generic” congressional ballot was pretty much the same as it was in August of 1994. Voters favor unnamed Republican candidates over Democrats 48-45, compared to 46-44 in 1994. Public Policy Polling’s latest survey had the national generic ballot favoring Republicans at 45-42.

Half of all voters told CNN’s pollster that they are likely to vote for a candidate who would oppose President Barack Obama. Back in ’94, 51 percent said they wanted candidates who opposed President Bill Clinton. Obama’s approval rating is also just three points higher than Bill Clinton’s was back then.

In 1994, the Illinois House Republicans rode their party’s national tidal wave to a 13-seat pickup, and a long-sought majority. The House Republicans need 12 seats to take the majority away from the Democrats this time. So, there’s a lot of hope out there that they can pull it off.

Some real differences exist between now and 1994, particularly here in Illinois. For instance, back then Illinois had straight-party voting. It was pretty easy to just walk into the ballot booth, punch the Republican number and walk out. The Republicans got rid of that just after the Democrats took back the House two years later.

Also, the state legislative district map 16 years ago was drawn by the Republicans. The current map was drawn by the Democrats and is way more sophisticated because computer technology advanced so far in the intervening decade.

The national Republican landslide of 1994 took the Democrats completely by surprise. They had simply never seen anything like it. Even during the Ronald Reagan sweep of 1984, the Illinois Democrats beat a Republican U.S. Senator. Now that they’ve seen what can happen, the Democrats claim they’ve made far more preparations than they did in ’94.

Then there’s Barack Obama. The president is from Illinois, so the state gives him a higher approval rating than just about anywhere else.

Back in early August of 1994, a Chicago Tribune poll had Republican Jim Edgar beating Dawn Clark Netsch by a mind-blowing 35 points. Netsch ended up losing by almost 30 points, taking the House Democratic majority down with her.

The latest statewide poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports has Republican state Sen. Bill Brady leading Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn by 13 points – 48-35. I’ve seen another internal candidate poll taken very recently which had Brady’s lead slightly higher.

So, could Quinn take everybody else down with him?

If you figure that Netsch’s 30-point loss helped intensify the 1994 GOP landslide, then maybe Quinn’s bad numbers aren’t enough. But I’ve seen some recent private polling on voter intensity which ought to frighten the Democrats right down to their bones. Their party’s biggest lead is among people who say they aren’t interested in voting.

Plus, Downstate and “collar county” voters appear the angriest these days, and that could really hurt a lot of the state’s freshman Democratic congresspersons and several legislators in tough fights. Any Democrat involved in a race that looks even a little close should be worried sick right now.

Quinn isn’t helping matters much with the campaign that he and his allies have been running. The Democratic Governors Association has spent almost $2 million on TV ads whacking Bill Brady as an extremist, but Rasmussen’s poll of 750 likely voters taken Aug. 9 showed that more voters thought Quinn was an extremist than Brady.

He’d better do something quick before he pulls a Netsch and tanks his entire party.

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