||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Illinois Senate Race Will Be Nasty, Expensive
By Stuart Rothenberg
The GOP primary to pick an opponent for incumbent Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun
ended up being a nasty slugfest, with conservative state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald
beating moderate state Comptroller Loleta Didrickson.
Although Didrickson immediately endorsed Fitzgerald, the bitterness between the
two wings of the GOP was apparent in the final days of the campaign, with Gov.
Jim Edgar (R), a Didrickson supporter, calling Fitzgerald's campaign "out of
control," and painting his position on abortion as "extreme."
Fitzgerald overwhelmed Didrickson with dollars and political ads, successfully
portraying her as a liberal and himself as a conservative and an outsider. And
some GOP insiders are second-guessing Didrickson's tactics, noting that she
spent heavily on expensive TV spots but little on direct mail or telephone calls, just like establishment-backed primary loser Bob Kustra did two years ago.
A Mason-Dixon poll conducted shortly before the primary showed Moseley-Braun
holding a statistically insignificant 42-41 percent lead over Fitzgerald. Initial
general election polls should show the senator with a bigger lead, as moderate
Republicans try to decide whether they should support Fitzgerald. And Democrats
have plenty of ammunition to use against the state legislator as they prepare to
paint him as "another Al Salvi" and as "out of the political mainstream."
But Fitzgerald's personal wealth, moderate positions on the assault weapons ban
and the Brady Bill, and less threatening style (than Salvi's) has the potential
of making him a tough opponent for Moseley-Braun. And the fact that Fitzgerald's
positions on guns and abortion, to name just two hot-button issues, are
virtually identical with those of the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee, Glenn
Poshard, makes it more difficult for Illinois Democrats to paint Fitzgerald as a nut.
Expect a nasty, expensive and hard-fought battle. If Fitzgerald holds moderate
GOP women and attracts ticket-splitters, he'll beat Moseley-Braun. If centrist
suburban Republicans decide he's "extreme," the senator will beat him. In any
case, the Senate race starts off as a tossup.
Also on the ballot:
Cong. Glenn Poshard rode a wave of downstate support to win the Democratic
gubernatorial nomination over former state attorney general Roland Burris,
attorney (and Richard Daley ally) John Schmidt, and former U.S. attorney Jim
Burns. Burris, who held a lead until the final days, would almost certainly have
been a disaster for the Democrats, so the party ducked a bullet in the primary.
Poshard could be the GOP's worst nightmare. A conservative Democrat from
downstate Illinois (who didn't take PAC money while in Congress), he could cause
problems for Republican nominee George Ryan if he can also get a good Democratic
vote out of Cook County. Carol Moseley-Braun's presence on the ballot should
help turn out Chicago Democrats.
The race is a tossup, but the Democrats have to feel quite good about their chances, and the
Republicans have reason to be worried.
State Rep. Judy Biggert held on for a narrow win over state Rep. Peter Roskam in
the GOP primary. Roskam started far behind, but his heavy spending and
conservative message helped him make up ground. But Biggert apparently outspent
Roskam and wasn't overwhelmed in advertising (the way Loleta Didrickson was),
and she avoided the upset. Biggert will hold the seat in November.
The Republicans nominated Brent Winters for the third time in this district, as
he easily beat businessman Jerry Berg. But Winters is yet again a clear underdog
against state Rep. Dave Phelps, a moderate Democrat. The district is home to the
Democrats' gubernatorial nominee, Glenn Poshard, which can't but help Phelps.