Thursday, October 20, 2005

Topinka: Scared of a Non-Scary Conservative?

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet wrote yesterday here, “The single biggest reason [Judy Baar] Topinka will decline to jump into the GOP race has to do with the lack of financial commitments from the GOP establishment." Another big reason might be a fear that a few of those male conservatives who are currently in [or thinking of getting in] the race for Governor might get out of the race, especially if Topinka gets in. That would leave Topinka with a possibly difficult one moderate on two conservatives, or an impossible to win "one on one", in which case Topinka doesn't win the Republican primary-- in which case money for the general election to take on Hot Rod is not her biggest problem.

Well, the drum rolls have started for Friday’s expected decision by Judy. The Chicago mainstream media, led by Lynn Sweet, tell us that “none of the other Republicans in the governor's race matches Topinka's stature and popularity." Sweet,Capitolfax’s Rich Miller and the Tribune’s Rick Pearson have become Judy’s pied pipers. Popular? Perhaps, but mostly as a State Treasurer who knows how to make friends with such machine type Democrats as Cong. Rush and former Cong. Bill Lipinski, with whom Judy is notorious for making deals. That might explain some of her popularity at the polls.

As to the rest, there certainly is a non-negligible moderate wing in the Illinois Republican Party. Corinne Wood worked that wing for 27% of the vote in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary, coming in third to Pat O’Malley’s 29% and Jim Ryan’s 44% [both of whom were clearly right of center]. Topinka, in her three general election wins for Treasurer, got that moderate wing, large chunks of the remainder of the Republican Party and lots of Dems, in part from her deals with same, in part from the perks of the office [at least in her last two runs] and in part from her zesty campaign style.

Further, let’s be honest. Conservatives, the base in the Republican Party, don’t care a great deal about State Treasurer and who occupies that office. Sure, they worry a little bit that the person who occupies that office might eventually move up to something more important, such as Governor, but mostly they say they will cross that bridge when they get to it. Indeed, not just conservatives, but liberals, Democrats, whatever—nobody cares who the Treasurer is.

As to stature, Webster’s Collegiate says that stature is a “status gained by achievement.” Topinka Stature? What could Lynn Sweet point to as supporting JBT’s stature? Her views or accomplishments on education? Spending? Taxes? Health Care? Roads? Pork? Jobs? George Ryan? I don’t think so. Not a one.

Topinka’s election three times as Treasurer? Similar to Dan Hynes stature as twice elected Comptroller? [Now, plug your ears, Jim Oberweis] Those two offices almost by definition have no stature. Does anybody care who the Treasurer is? Does anybody care who the Comptroller is? Does anybody know what those people do? or don't, as the case may be.

But, if we listen to the Chicago mainstream media, e.g., the Sun-Times' Sweet, Capitolfax’s Miller, WTTW’s Brackett, Roosevelt University’s Green, Republican activist Robling, Judy is almost the second coming.

Elizabeth Brackett, moderator on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight [last night]: Once Jim Edgar decided not to run, the way was cleared for Judy Baar Topinka—she is now the one Republicans are waiting to hear from [sic].

Chris Robling, former Executive Director of the Cook County GOP, guest on Chicago Tonight and sometimes thought to be a Movement Conservative: Well, I think she has the premier position in the Party right now. I think she is really [the] first among equals…

Brackett: She is the top Republican Candidate, potential candidate. A recent [Chicago Tribune] poll showed that she had 31% and the next candidate [Jim Oberweis] was 15 points down…
Paul Green [Roosevelt University Professor and Chicago Tonight guest]: They [the Republican Party] don’t have anybody else, other than Topinka, who has any kind of statewide recognition…

Brackett: James Oberweis…he has run before and he seems a little—a little bit tired from his previous races…[ what was Brackett thinking? First, Oberweis goes crazy when people call him James, it’s Jim, Elizabeth. Second, Tired? Anybody who has seen Oberweis in action knows he seems like he is on “speed.” Tired? We all should be so tired.]

The 31% thing. Guess what folks, Topinka is one of two moderates, and quite a bit stronger than her competitor in that wing of the party- Ron Gidwitz. If you add up the moderates in that poll, you get 35%. If you add up the conservative numbers in the poll [Oberweis, Rauschenberger, Brady and Birkett, who is not officially in the race], you get 34%.

Could three of the four conservatives in the Republican Primary for Governor drop out? Is the Pope Catholic? DuPage State’s Attorney Joe Birkett is not even in yet, so he could surely get out as fast as you can say Brian Dugan or Jeanine Nicarico. Downstate State Sen. Bill Brady has already impressed people and started to get some statewide name recognition. He would make a good Lt. Gov. running mate for one of the others.

Oberweis is second in the polls, but a surge in the 2004 Senate race and an almost perfect sweep of the Editorial Boards by Rauschenberger came close to allowing Steve to catch Oberweis for a second to Jack Ryan. All things considered, this might be the year for Oberweis to try to win a race and take on Dan Hynes for Comptroller. Be a Party guy and there is still time to be Governor.

Then what happens, you have a non-scary conservative neck and neck, if not ahead, of the “First among equals,” Judy Baar Topinka. And, given the dominance of the conservative base in the Republican Primary, we have to expect the undecideds to break to the remaining conservative in the race.

Now, this Rosy Scenario for Steve might be a little scary to Judy Baar Topinka. Perhaps it is this scenario and not Karl Rove’s inability to come up with five million dollars that might cause Judy to bow out this Friday. Of course, she wouldn’t want to say this. Who would?
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at