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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 12:01 am

The early campaigner gets the numbers

 The Illinois House Democrats launched their direct mail and TV program weeks earlier than the House Republicans in an attempt to knock the GOP candidates down before they even had a chance to stand up.

The mail started going out not long after the mid-August Illinois State Fair. Four years ago, during a national Republican tidal wave, the House Republicans preemptively launched their advertising program in mid-September, catching the Democrats off guard. The Republicans won a few seats they might not have picked off had they started at the usual time. The Democrats learned a valuable lesson, raised an absolute ton of money, and began their mail and TV programs even earlier.

As a result, the Republicans, who don’t have much money, have been buried by hundreds of thousands of dollars in early Democratic advertising.

And the Democrats have also clearly beaten the Republicans to the punch when it comes to parroting the “message track” used by the current leader in the governor’s race, Republican Bruce Rauner.

Rauner’s been running his “Shake up Springfield” ads all year long. He’s spent millions building his anti-incumbent, outsider message of term limits, tax cuts and property tax freezes.

But if you look at what the Democrats are doing everywhere in the state, the long-entrenched super-majority party is running very similar ads to Rauner’s. They are, in one GOP operative’s view, protecting their members by portraying Republican challengers as tax-loving incumbents and “tying them to the dysfunction.”

“Mel Thillens in charge of our tax dollars is as reckless as a bull in a china shop,” blares the headline on a recent House Democratic mailer that attacks the suburban Park Ridge Republican.

“Mel Thillens never met a tax increase he didn’t like,” the claim is made on the mailer’s other side, noting that Thillens had voted to raise property taxes by almost 50 percent and voted for “deficit spending.”

Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, is “fighting against unfair property tax hikes” by pushing legislation to cap them, it continues. A concurrently running cable TV ad presses home the same message: Thillens loves tax hikes and deficit spending.

“Politicians get enough perks when they retire,” another pro-Moylan mailer states. “They shouldn’t get free health care, too.”

On the flip side, the mailer makes note of the fact that Moylan opted out of the legislative pension system and sponsored legislation to get rid of health care for retired politicians. “Marty Moylan will fight to make sure our tax dollars are spent on our priorities, not perks for politicians.”

The Republicans have a positive piece in the mailboxes for Thillens. It points out that Thillens “helps run a multi-million dollar family business,” and explains why he wants to work “60 hours a week as a state Representative.”

Um, in the age of Bruce Rauner’s $18 watch and an intense anti-Springfield mentality, the Thillens’ message track is decidedly different than Moylan’s. Suggesting your candidate is a millionaire and claiming he can’t wait to dive into the business of Springfield probably isn’t a good idea.

As a result, Rep. Moylan is doing almost as well as Rauner in the 55th House District, according to a new Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll.

The poll of 334 likely voters taken Sept. 10 found Moylan was leading Mel Thillens 48-39. Rauner was ahead of Gov. Pat Quinn 52-39 in the district. The poll had a margin of error of +/-5.4 percent.

The early and quite expensive “independent outsider” messaging has attracted significant Republican support for Moylan. He’s getting 19 percent of self-identified Republicans, compared to Thillens’ 9 percent of Democrats. And the two are so far splitting the conservative-leaning independent vote, which made up 46 percent of the poll’s voter sample.

That can also be seen as a sign of trouble for Moylan, however. If Republican voters “come home” and independents break more heavily against the incumbent Moylan, this thing could tighten up. The House Democrats’ messaging is obviously designed to prevent that from happening.

Of course, this is just one poll – a “snapshot in time.” The House Democrats say their polling shows them “in the driver’s seat” in the district and the Republicans actually liked the We Ask America results.

But a poll taken near the beginning of the huge Democratic paid media onslaught found Rep. Moylan ahead 47-33, with Rauner leading 51-36.

That poll was done by respected national pollster Fabrizio Lee on behalf of WLS Radio talk show host Dan Proft’s political fund. The live-caller survey of 300 likely voters was taken the week of Aug. 25 and had a margin of error of +/-5.5 percent. The House Democrats much preferred those numbers, of course.

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


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