Primary Day: GOP Aims to Make Gains in Illinois
CHICAGO - Two weeks after losing Edward Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, the Democrats face tough elections today in Illinois - this time from within the party's own ranks.
Gov. Pat Quinn is fighting to hold onto his job in an unexpectedly close primary, while four other Democrats are battling for the right to defend President Obama's old Senate seat in the fall.
Whatever the outcome of today's voting, Democrats might have to worry this autumn about this "blue state" - where Democrats hold all statewide offices and control both chambers of the General Assembly, says Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
"This certainly is a place where the Democrats could lose a seat in the Senate," Redfield says.
State GOP Chairman Pat Brady calls Illinois "the next Massachusetts," referring to Republican Scott Brown's win in a Jan. 19 special election for Kennedy's seat. He predicts independents upset by Democrats' policies will vote for Republicans.
Jim Moody, Sangamon County Democratic Party chairman, doubts any dramatic implications can be found in a primary election, which usually gets a low turnout. "Let's wait and see," he says.
Michael Mezey, a political science professor at DePaul University, says it's "a bit overdrawn at this point" to assume that today's voting will reveal anything about what will happen in November. "There's a tradition of competitiveness" between the two parties in the state, he says.
Key races in 2010's first primary:
Governor: Quinn, who inherited the job when Rod Blagojevich was impeached in January 2009, and Comptroller Dan Hynes are in a dead heat, a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll found last month. Top issue: Quinn's handling of a budget crisis.
Among Republicans, leading candidates are former state GOP chairman Andy McKenna; former state attorney general Jim Ryan, who ran for governor in 2002; and state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who worked with Obama in the state Senate.
U.S. Senate: In the Democratic contest for the seat vacated by Obama, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias leads his opponents. The Tribune/WGN poll found that a quarter of Democrats were undecided.
Some members of the conservative anti-tax "tea party" movement are testing their clout by opposing Rep. Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican who has a wide lead in the poll.
"Regardless of who wins . . . this movement will be better organized, better informed and better capable of taking on the Democrats in the general election," says Bill Walker of the Will County Tea Party Alliance.