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Thursday, May 8, 2003 02:20 pm

The governor’s permanent campaign

Say what you want about Rod Blagojevich, he sticks like Super Glue to his top priorities.

Unfortunately, his highest priority is running a permanent campaign. Pundits used to accuse Bill Clinton of the very same thing, but it worked for Clinton. Blagojevich undoubtedly figures he can ignore the grumbling of statehouse "insiders" and succeed with the same strategy:

• Blagojevich speaks a lot about ethics. He's fired some entrenched Republicans, hired a top-notch inspector general, and forced state workers into ethics sensitivity training. Voters eat this stuff up. Never mind that he's surrounded by advisors with close ties to SBC and he's appointed utility-friendly officials to the Illinois Commerce Commission.

• Blago has repeatedly said he would veto any bill that increases the state sales or income tax. Bingo! That's the stuff of dreams in the polls. But in the process he's borrowing his way out of our $5 billion budgetary hole, relying way too heavily on one-time "gimmicks" and masking a $713 million actual spending increase with a couple of phantom cuts. There's no way the legislature would pass a tax hike without his assent anyhow.

• Blagojevich has trumpeted his education plan at every opportunity, which he claims gives schools an extra $250 per pupil. That goes down particularly well with women in Chicago's suburbs, an important demographic. He doesn't mention that a lot of schools won't see a dime of that dough and that at least a quarter--and as many as half--will actually lose money on the deal.

As long as his manufactured message breaks through the clutter, the governor's happy. And at that he's been remarkably successful.

Last week he shamelessly revealed the results of a poll he had commissioned. It discovered that 84 percent of voters strongly support his proposed budget. The poll appeared to be aimed at recalcitrant legislators, who would be frightened into backing his plan. But the poll was more likely designed to create more positive press for the governor.

Why would I dare suggest that the governor's poll was purely a spin device?

Well, look at it. Questions were blatantly designed to produce the results the governor wanted. When asked, for instance, if voters agreed with the guv's budget ideas or with "the same people who helped create the crisis the state now faces and represent the failed politics of the past," an overwhelming number said "I'm with the governor." Duh.

The poll was an all-too-typical Blagojevich stunt, almost devoid of real meaning but full of spin and symbolism--and promoted, by the way, on a five-city "barnstorming" tour. This guy is good. Very good. At campaigning.

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