February 19, 2002

A Republican primary report

Even though it is still one month away, the Illinois state gubernatorial primary is already beginning to look like a foregone conclusion, at least on the Republican side. Both parties have been galvanized by incumbent Governor George Ryan's decision not to seek a second term, and both primaries promise to be competitive. Running for the GOP nomination for governor are Attorney General Jim Ryan, Lieutenant Governor Corinne Wood, and State Senator Patrick O'Malley.

The clear leader in the pack is Jim Ryan. So far he's been running a fairly subdued campaign, refusing to debate his opponents and staying fuzzy on most of the issues. In a state that is poised to suffer record budgetary shortfalls, Ryan has been deliberately vague on what programs he plans to cut if elected. However, since most polls give him a 25 to 35 percent lead over his nearest rivals, he can afford to run a George W. Bush-style primary campaign. About the only thing that could seriously jeopardize his lead would be the discovery of a new cancerous tumor — Jim Ryan has already been diagnosed with cancer three times since 1996. If you want to vote for a winner, Jim Ryan is definitely the way to go.

However, if you're like me, then you're probably more interested in a contested election. Here, the race gets a little murkier. Wood and O'Malley are locked in a bitter struggle for second place. As of this weekend a Chicago Tribune poll found them both tied at 18 percent, while a Sun-Times poll gave O'Malley a five-point lead over Wood. This is important because until recently Wood has been the only candidate to get within striking distance of Ryan (at one point, a poll showed only a 15 percent difference between the two).

Wood is running a top-notch campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor. She has touted her plans for education and constantly reminded voters of her extremely pro-choice stance on abortion. Her abortion views are the centerpiece of her campaign, and have even earned her the nickname "Corinne the abortion queen." Her many attack ads on TV have only reinforced this point. The problem with this strategy is that she is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and so must appeal to Republicans. This has led to some rather amusing moments, such as her assertion on Chicago Tonight that she was an avid supporter of the Second Amendment and owned a gun (a hand-me-down from her father that she keeps in a storage locker). Wood has also called for Democrats and Independents to help counterbalance those nasty right-wing conservatives who (for some reason) tend to vote in large numbers in Republican primaries.

The most conservative candidate is O'Malley, who is running a classic "outsider" campaign. Since he has no serious chance of winning, O'Malley has taken a series of hard-line stances on issues popular with conservatives, such as abortion and gun control. He has also, not surprisingly, tried to make an issue out of corruption and the infamous license-for-bribes scandal that rocked the (George) Ryan administration. For those of you not familiar with license-for-bribes, there is evidence that when George Ryan was secretary of state, his office sold trucking licenses for campaign contributions. In 1994 a truck driver using one of these illegal licenses plowed into a minivan, killing six children. In the last few years, over two dozen of Ryan's low-level operatives have been indicted, and the scandal played a large role in preventing Ryan from seeking a second term. Until recently O'Malley trailed Wood, but in the last two weeks his polling numbers have gone up.

So what's at stake here? Wood has come under fire for her liberal policies, and placing third in the primary would almost certainly cripple her political career, if not kill it outright. Similarly, O'Malley could claim that his loss to Jim Ryan was a foregone conclusion — given Ryan's consistently strong lead — but use a strong second-place showing to jump-start a future campaign for statewide office.

Why is it important for Republicans to knock off a political idiot? Without naming names, the GOP lost a U.S. Senate seat in 1996 and the Secretary of State's office in 1998 to Democrats. Both times, the GOP ran the same candidate, rather than cutting its losses after 1996. This time, the GOP should recognize a loser when it sees one and give Corinne Wood third place and the boot.

Justin Palmer is a third-year in the College, concentrating in history and political science.