Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lots of twists in this fall's vote

Lots of twists in this fall's vote
September 6, 2006
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times

Could the November election be Dennis Hastert's last hurrah as speaker of the House? It will take only 15 Democrats displacing 15 incumbent Republicans for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to move into Hastert's office. The surly mood of the country reflected in national opinion polls certainly seems to point to that possibility. And a Sunday report in the Washington Post paints an even gloomier picture for Republicans, saying, "The political battlefield has expanded well beyond the roughly 20 GOP House seats originally thought vulnerable." Twice as many districts may now be in doubt.

Hastert friend and confidant Dallas Ingemunson is hardly prepared to concede that Democrats will overtake Republicans in November in the U.S. House. "This has been predicted every year since he's been the speaker," said Ingemunson Tuesday by phone from his Yorkville law office. Ingemunson, the Republican chairman of Kendall County, thinks the prediction is premature, adding, "I still think the majority of people are worried about national security."


Then again, is it national security that's making voters cranky, even outright rebellious? Or is it the economic recovery that they can't see or feel? The raises that aren't materializing in working people's paychecks while gas prices are eating them alive? Or the health insurance that 40 million of them don't have?

Then there is the war itself. Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan we learn what kind of return we've gotten on our $460 billion investment. Almost 3,000 of our soldiers are dead, another 20,000 wounded, plus uncounted thousands of dead and maimed Afghans and Iraqis.

The irony of this election for Hastert is that it's a study in opposite political realities. Nationally, his party controls both houses of Congress and the office of the chief executive while in Illinois quite the reverse is true. It's the Democrats who dominate both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office.

Hastert, favorite son of Illinois, is a red guy living in a blue state. And at least two of the nation's most critical congressional races are in his own backyard and may well determine if he keeps his speaker post.

In the 6th District, Henry Hyde's retirement has opened the door in DuPage County to the pitched battle between Tammy Duckworth, Democrat and wounded Iraq veteran, and Hyde's anointed successor, Republican Peter Roskam.

In the 8th District, incumbent freshman Rep. Melissa Bean of Barrington is a Democrat who votes like a moderate Republican. Bean's challenger is David McSweeney, a very conservative Republican.

If Democrats trump Republicans in these two races, there is the inevitable question of how it will affect the state contest between Gov. Blagojevich and GOP challenger Judy Baar Topinka.

"They definitely will affect Judy Topinka, I just don't know for certain how," said Kirk Dillard by phone Tuesday. "As Republican chairman of DuPage County, I often wonder myself if Judy Topinka gets helped by the efforts of Dave McSweeney and Peter Roskam to churn out their conservative base or if Blagojevich gets helped because of Bean and Duckworth's national Democratic support."

Topinka just Tuesday launched her first big TV ad buy, an effort at last to counter the avalanche of Blagojevich attack ads since the primary. Despite all the time and money the governor has spent, just a handful of points separate them in the polls. But this election may hold more permutations than a college math equation. One of the big variables will be women.

Topinka, who has traditionally done well appealing to women, is having a hard time doing it now. Blagojevich enjoys more of their support. Oddly, Duckworth and Bean, the Democrats, may help Topinka, according to Dillard.

"I'm hoping that suburban women who may be pushed to vote for women like Duckworth and Bean will, in the end, fall in line for Topinka, who has traditionally won well among suburban women of both parties."

Two months in Illinois politics is an eternity. Two months is too early to take poll numbers and predictions for anything more than they really are, snapshots in time.

But one thing will do more than any other to turn all the polls, predictions and punditry on its head.

Turnout. Traditionally, in midterm, non-presidential elections, people -- you the voters -- stay home.

Please don't.

Drive the pollsters, politicians and people like me who write columns crazy. Circle your calendars for Nov. 7. No matter how much you're disgusted with candidates from either party, no matter how fed up you are with corruption, plan to cast a ballot anyway.

And then let's see what surprises there will be in who is the next speaker of the House and governor of Illinois.


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