February 2nd is election day in Illinois, as the Land of Lincoln determines their candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, and House of Representatives, not to mention various state offices. This is not something I've been following as much as it's been thrown in my face; if you turn on nearly any local TV or radio station in Chicago, you're only a few minutes away from watching an attack ad. The candidates mentioned below have volunteered themselves to lead and represent one of the most debt-burdoned states in the nation, and each of these races have some type of national implications. For all you non-Illinoisans, let me break down this whole mess:
U.S. Senate: The seat that Barack Obama abdicated 15 months ago is up for grabs again, and sorry folks, it's no longer up for sale. The current holder of that seat, Roland Burris, did not have the money or the public support to attempt running a full term, leaving the junior senator's seat wide open come 2011. The Democratic frontrunner is state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a 33-year-old bachelor from Chicago. A lawyer that majored in ecomonics at Boston University, Giannoulias has been deemed an Obama carbon copy by some because of his youth, unusual last name, and yen for basketball (he played one year of pro ball in Europe in the late '90s). A hardliner on immigration, Giannoulias' status as a moderate has been hindered somewhat by being pro-choice and a supporter of same-sex marriage. He also endorses an overhaul of NAFTA and No Child Left Behind. As it stands Giannoulias has a pretty good lead in the polls, as most of his competition, including Chicago Urban League CEO/ex-Blagojevich crony Cheryle Jackson, have proven too far-left or too polarizing to gain any momentum with moderates and centrists.
Over in the GOP, Rep. Mark Kirk has a commanding lead in the latest Chicago Tribune poll, though undecideds will be a huge swing factor. Kirk has by far the most experience in Washington; he was an aide to Rep. John Porter in the mid-80s and served two years in the Bush 41 administration before being elected to five terms in the House of Representatives. Kirk's nearest competitor is Andy Martin, a conservative news pundit who has spent more time making unfounded attacks on the frontrunner than establishing his own platform. Martin has accused his opponent of being a military poseur (Kirk is a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve) and in an infamous campaign ad, Martin implied that Kirk "pals around with gays and pedophiles." Where Kirk supports the Marriage Amendment, minor adjustments to No Child Left Behind, and more border security, Martin has no official stance on any of those issues and just keeps attacking and mudslinging.
Governor: This whole race is a logjam, as neither party has a clear favorite. Pat Quinn, the incumbent who replaced Rod Blagojevich 12 months ago, is a longtime political outsider who is clearly still adjusting to running as a mainline Democrat. Though Quinn had a sizeable lead in the polls five weeks ago, his primary opponent Dan Hynes has picked up steam after being endorsed by nearly major newspaper in the state. Both candidates seem to have the same stance on wide variety of issues, though they draw the line at gun control (Hynes is a FOID card-holder, Quinn has railed against concealed-carry handguns) and the death penalty (Hynes supports it, Quinn doesn't). Where Hynes has been on the offense, citing Quinn's reputation as a rabblerouser, the governor has largely played defense, emphasizing his platform and not stuping down to any character assassination. I can't tell which strategy is going to work, though.
If the Democrat Governor race is tight, the GOP contest is practically a free-for-all. Of the six remaining candidates --DuPage County board chairman Bob Schillerstrom dropped out of the race on January 22nd-- the three top frontrunners are within five percentage points of each other in the latest polls and none of them have 20% of their party's support. On Tuesday, this campaign will most likely come down to: Andy McKenna, the former chairman of the Illinois Republicans; State Senator Kirk Dillard; and former attorney general Jim Ryan, the man who lost to Blagojevich in the 2002 governor's race. Three weeks ago, McKenna nabbed the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune, citing his straightforward demeanor and his reputation as an idea man. Nevertheless, the Illinois GOP is still lacking focus following the George Ryan mess from nearly ten years ago. Even though they selected Ryan (no relation) as their candidate in '02 and Judy Baar Topinka in '06, neither candidate never really enamored the majority of the party.
Congress: This is arguably the most predictable arena, as Illinois is topheavy with incumbents running for reelection. My congresswoman, Rep. Judy Biggert, has represented the 13th district since 1999 and doesn't seem to be facing any serious competition from Democrats or from within the GOP. Her seat on the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor is more or less safe. Bobby Rush and Dan Lipinski, both Democrats, and Republican Pete Roskam will also likely coast to another two-year term.
Cook County Board President: I'm throwing this last one in for my own amusement, though I shouldn't downplay the fact that Cook is the most populous (and therefore, weightiest) county in the state. You may recall that a few months ago, I wrote a fairly scathing editorial about Todd Stroger, the sitting president of the board. His 4 1/2 years in charge have been marred by scandal, and he failed to live up to any of his campaign promises from 2006. If anyone in Cook County has any common sense this man will not nab the Democratic nomination, yet it still appears that he still has a sliver of a chance. I'll gladly take any of the three challengers over "The Toddler."
I don't know if Illinois is still the most corrupt state in the country, though politically it's certainly the most dysfunctional. In making their endorsements, the Tribune has called for "The Revolution of 2010," a call to arms for voters that are fed up with the greasy palms, cronyism and reckless spending that has swallowed my home state whole. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but a full-on assault aimed towards the career politicians in Illinois that seem to be more concerned with lining their pockets than serving their state's needs. Rep. Phil Crane, George Ryan, and Blagojevich are ancient history, with Stroger and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley likely to follow. I'll admit that none of these candidates are perfect, but this state needs an infusion of fresh blood, and fast.