Sunday, July 31, 2005

A racing form for the 9 Republican Guv candidates; 6 debate tonight in Skokie

There are nine actual or potential Republican Primary candidates for Governor.

Six of those nine, including Rauschenberger, Oberweis, Brady, O'Malley, Birkett and Gidwitz, are scheduled to attend a forum of Republican Guv candidates tonight, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition “RJC” [See here], which until the Reagan era, might have been thought to be an oxymoron. On the national level, the Jewish population [as well as non-Jews] has become increasingly worried about the Democratic Party’s (1) increasing reluctance to stand by Israel, with respect to Israel’s efforts to deal with Palestinian terrorists, (2) failure to perceive the dangers to Israel posed by Iraq and Iran, not to mention other countries hostile to Israel’s existence and (3) increasing reluctance to stand by, in terms of providing military assistance and troops for, any democratic or emerging democratic ally. Indeed, [See here and here, and here, for references to RJC events today about Israel with North Shore Cong. Mark Steven Kirk [R-Highland Park, IL; 10th CD]] in La Jolla, Irvine and Beverly Hills, California, respectively, {not a bad tour of duty for Commander Kirk; La Jolla is perhaps as close as one can come to Heaven on earth, even for those who don't believe in Heaven].

Similarly, there are both federal and state domestic policy issue positions, e.g., affirmative active, making government neutral instead of hostile to religion, taxes and spending, for which the Democratic Party may be viewed as less hospitable than the new Republican Party to the interests and preferences of the Jewish population than was previously the case. Ironically, the Republican Party needs more of an outreach program, or one could almost say, affirmative action program for Jewish voters. Indeed, who better than bar mitzvah boy and Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman to do this.

Although listed as attending the RJC forum, LaHood has had to cancel due to a “family emergency.” That certainly could be the case, but his absence will help fuel speculation that he is about to drop out, as has been rumored previously. Topinka is generally not attending Guv Candidate forums—no doubt because she views herself as ahead of the other Guv candidates [at least in name recognition] and she probably realizes articulating public policy positions is not her strength. Jim Edgar, of course, has not officially acknowledged he is even thinking of running, with Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin reporting [See here] that he loves to take his grandkids to the dentist in Colorado-no doubt much more so than debating six Guv wannabees in Skokie on a Sunday night]

In order of likelihood to get the Republican Party nomination—with my odds in brackets-- the Berkowitz racing form, provided gratis for tonight [you can’t tell the players without a program] is as follows:

1. Thirteen year State Senator Steve Rauschenberger [5 to 1] [Elgin]. Steve is more a plodder than flamboyant, but he is (a) smart, (b) very knowledgeable about state government, public policy and the legislative process, (c) very well liked by the edit boards, and (d) he is much more charismatic than he was a few years ago—he has learned how to throw out one liners, e.g., tourists spend more time in Springfield than Blagojevich. Raised 800 K in last six months. That was impressive, but he must repeat that at a higher level. Must give comfort to both social and economic conservatives that he is truly one of them, while continuing to reach out to moderates. Must keep Republican National Committeeman Kjellander from getting his scalp, which Bob wants badly. Rauschenberger will make his entry into Guv race official this Tuesday morning in Elgin.

2. Judy Baar Topinka, [10-1] [Chicago] Eleven years as State Treasurer, adored by Chicago Tribune and most of the mainstream Chicago metro media , along with Big Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, as a pragmatic moderate conservative [as the Trib Edit Board put it last year during the Keyes mess] —another oxymoron. Truly disliked [some would say hated] by much of the Republican Primary conservative base, especially for her “in your face,” support of gay rights and perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent, for her pro-choice views re abortion, or pro-abortion views, as the social conservatives would say. Understands politics and winning quite well, and willing to deal, perhaps to a fault, to do so; tremendous name recognition relative to the others in the primary field, except, maybe for Oberweis, and Edgar, of course [See assessment of next candidate , below]. Historical strong ties to George Ryan could be major problem. But, if field narrows to Judy and two [male] conservatives who split the base vote, her Republican Primary chances are good, especially if Blago draws no primary opposition, allowing Judy to draw Democratic cross-overs, especially female pro-choice voters.

3. Jim Edgar [20-1] [Downstate and Colorado]. Very popular Ex-Governor, 1991-1998. Will turn 59, next month, but old for his years. Angioplasty and by-pass during his tenure as Governor mean that his wife, Brenda, and he, may not be anxious to jump into a stressful primary and general, not to mention the financial state government mess he inherits, if he beats Blago. It is assumed by mainstream media that his entry would clear the primary field. But, they do not realize it would probably take an armed militia to get Oberweis and his supporter Jack Roeser out of the primary. And, even Sen. Rauschenberger might decide to stay in the primary. If two conservatives stay in, Edgar almost surely wins the primary. Downsides for Edgar: He last won in 94. The political landscape has changed considerably. The Republican Primary could have significant speed bumps for Edgar, if only one conservative stays in, especially with a Republican primary base that is much more socially conservative than it was in 1994, and of course, Edgar is Pro-Choice. Downstaters now care more about issues than simple geography. Then there is that pesky, old MSI scandal. And, Edgar may not be the guy to argue against Blago fee increases or against Democratic Party Tax Swaps, with Edgar having adopted that Dawn Clark Netsch proposal after arguing against it in the 1994 campaign. The smart money says less than 50-50 that Edgar gets in, perhaps 40-60 or 30-70. Likely to announce his decision on August 18th at Republican Day at the State Fair in Springfield.

4. Jim Oberweis [30-1] [Sugar Grove, upstate]. Lots of net worth, and pretty good name recognition. The name recognition stems from his family Dairy business and his Wealth Management business, as well as his two primary runs for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004, respectively [2nd Place finish in both]. First to officially announce for Governor. Lifetime entrepreneur with an MBA from the University of Chicago who started focusing on politics five years ago, or so. That is both his strength [says he will be candid to voters, unlike pols] and weakness [stumbled badly on Taliban abortion comment, upsetting pro-lifers; and stumbled on immigration, upsetting everybody except for hard core anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party—fair or unfair, that’s the reality. Has recovered, but Taliban and Immigration were and are heavy crosses to bear---many are afraid he would stumble badly again, if he became the Republican nominee and many social conservatives still do not trust him.

5. Bill Brady [40 to 1], Twelve year State legislator, house and senate [Bloomington], currently in the State Senate. Continues to be active in his family businesses-- real estate, TV station, etc. Very polished guy. Handles media well; attractive family [the Brady Bunch?] and boyish looks-- could be attractive to female voters; good combined political/business background. Speaks well. Easy to like. Estimated net worth in the 4 to 6 million range. All of those ranked ahead of him have run or won statewide, giving them name recognition advantage. This is a good first run for Sen. Brady, earning him a better shot next time, a statewide slot other than governor this time, or he could do it this time-- if someone ahead of him stumbles. Has a downstate advantage that could be strong—when combined with his ability to come across north of I-80 as an upstater. Lost for Congress in 2000, losing in a three way primary to now Cong. Johnson—claims he got into race too late, a mistake he did not make in this race, having announced in an eleven city fly-around earlier this week, after campaigning with some intensity since early this year.

6. Pat O’Malley, [50-1]. 10 year former State Senator and lawyer/wealthy businessman, one of the 1992 Fab 5 state senators that included former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald and fellow Guv candidate and friend, Steve Rauschenberger, as well as current State Senators Lauzen [Aurora] and Syverson [Rockford]. O’Malley got 29% of the vote to Jim Ryan’s 44% and Corinne Wood’s 27% in the 2002 R Guv Primary. Pat declined to endorse Jim Ryan after the primary, which some said sealed his fate for any future runs. Notwithstanding that view, Pat can self finance and he could have expanded his 29% base considerably, had he started working on doing so in 2003. Mysteriously to most, he chose, in large part, to stay out of things until recently. He could hurt some of his fellow conservatives by staying in, but he can’t win now unless all three of the above referenced conservatives stumble badly, and that ain’t going to happen.

7. Cong. Ray LaHood [80 to 1] [Peoria]. Nobody seems to be quite sure what Ray is doing in this race He is a smart, talented guy. He is the "go to guy," who knows House parliamentary procedure and presides frequently in the House, including during the Clinton Impeachment, because he was and is viewed as fair on both sides of the aisle. Speaks easily about the issues, national and state. Liked by his constituents and the media for his candor. Has a lot of respect in his district, but little name recognition outside of it. Mentored by former, long time House minority leader Bob Michel and still speaks with him regularly. Socially conservative, but conservative Republican party base distrusts him because LaHood (1) was one of three Rs in the House to vote against the Contract with America in 1994, (2) helped lead the charge to push Senator Fitzgerald out of his U. S. Senate seat, something for which the conservative base will never forgive LaHood, as Peter is now a conservative icon and (3) thought to be a part of the new Illinois Republican Party Establishment Leadership including Moderates Cong. Kirk, Minority Leader Cross and State Treasurer Judy Baar. Given all of these problems, why would LaHood give up a safe seat in Congress to take a flyer on a Guv race? He won’t. Smart money says he is out by Labor Day, if not before. Perhaps LaHood was in as a sort of stalking horse for the new Republican Establishment to prevent other contenders from getting downstate support, which would help Judy Baar keep upstate lead, until LaHood could transfer his downstate support to her. If that was the game plan, that is not working.

8. Joe Birkett [150 to 1] Third Term DuPage State’s Attorney. Reputation as a smart, tough prosecutor. Came to State’s Attorney position behind Jim Ryan. Still plagued by people assigning blame between Jim Ryan, Joe Birkett and others for the botched prosecution of the infamous and immensely sad Jeanine Nicarico case. Imminent indictment of Brian Dugan for that heinous crime will not help Birkett put this behind him. On the plus side, Joe came within three points of beating Lisa Madigan, notwithstanding her dad’s muscle and money. But, that’s his weakness, too. Everybody views the guy as a prosecutor, notwithstanding the Nicarico mess, so how can Birkett run for Governor. He can’t and won’t. Will be out of the race by Labor Day. Party might like him to take on Lisa again, but that would be a fool’s errand for Joe. Lisa has made virtually no mistakes in the AG office and is viewed by everyone as unbeatable in 2006. Republican pol Jim Durkin all but said that publicly on Tom Roeser’s political shoot-out radio show this month when it was suggested Durkin should run for AG. Birkett will go into private practice for a few years, earn some big bucks and may return to politics, depending on opportunities--perhaps to run for AG in 2010 when Lisa runs for Governor.

9. Ron Gidwitz [250 to 1]. Helene Curtis heir and former State Board of Education Chairman. The epitome of a guy with significant civic appointments and a very successful family business. Gidwitz was given a large ownership interest and a CEO position, and he ran and grew the Company quite well, before he and other family members sold their interest for over 200 million dollars. Gidwitz had high-level appointments from both Mayor Harold Washington [City Economic Development Commission] and Mayor Daley [City College system]. He has raised lots of money for the Republican Party from his wealthy friends and contacts, and received credit from conservatives for raising money for both conservatives and moderates, despite his generally moderate Republican positions and beliefs. Has the net worth to try to buy name recognition, ala Blair Hull, but apparently not quite as much net worth as Blair’s 350 million dollars, or so. And, Gidwitz is likely to be much less successful than Blair was in essentially buying downstate Democratic votes by an intense, TV ad blitz. A very different dynamic in the Republican Party. Hard to buy the Republican base downstate in the same way Hull bought Democratic downstate votes with his senior healthcare ads. Also, Gidwitz, who entered the race officially last month, is starting too late. And then there is the so-called Joliet slumlord family business issue. On the plus side, Ron Gidwitz is a smart, nice business guy with some talented people around him. He is committed to improving the quality of education and he cares deeply about good government and helping people less fortunate than he. Unfortunately for Ron, that is not enough. He may stay in the race until filing time, but for no apparent reason other than he might want to see what it is like to run for Governor. He hurts Judy Baar by cutting into her moderate fundraising pool. Other than that, he would seem to have little impact on the race. Indeed, his potential impact if he gets out is substantial. For example, what if he viewed Rauschenberger as the best chance to bridge the moderate-conservative schism? If so, he could have a tremendous impact on the primary and perhaps general by chairing Rauschenberger’s finance committee. And, both Rauschenberger and Oberweis have pointed out that Gidwitz could be very effective as a high level administrator in either of their administrations. Both, no doubt, would like to woo Gidwitz to join their team, now.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at