Skip to content

Blago Effect

Candidates Seeking Distance from Gov.

The housing crisis undoubtedly will be a predominant theme in many House races come November. In others: the Iraq War, health care, the overall economy or some combination of the four.

But in an election to replace retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), the tanking administration of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is fast becoming a major issue in the contest involving state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) and concrete magnate Martin Ozinga (R).

And with less than six months to go until Election Day, the race by Democrats and Republicans to define the two relatively unknown candidates has already begun, resulting in a he said/she said about who’s better friends with the unpopular governor: The Republican who’s given Blagojevich and Democratic causes tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions? Or the Democratic state Senate leader who the GOP accuses of carrying the governor’s water in Springfield?

“Blagojevich will be radioactive and toxic for everyone,” said one Land of Lincoln Democratic operative.

The son-in-law of powerful Chicago Alderman Richard Mell (D), Blagojevich was first elected in 2002, winning a second term four years later. But like his predecessor, incarcerated former Gov. George Ryan

(R), Blagojevich has found controversy hard to avoid: Members of his administration are enveloped in scandal, and the governor’s name keeps popping up in the trial of politically connected developer Tony Rezko.

And who has stood beside Blagojevich for the past three years, Illinois Republicans claim, pushing his agenda along with state Senate President Emil Jones (D)?

“The case that Republicans have to make — that [Halvorson] is Blagojevich’s favorite politician — is pretty strong,” a Republican operative said. “She’s the top lieutenant to Senate President Emil Jones [and] basically has to do what he says, which oftentimes is what the governor says.”

Republicans also are salivating over a recent district poll suggesting that not only is Blagojevich extremely unpopular, but local voters are also unhappy with the Democratic-dominated state legislature.

A GOP poll provided to Roll Call suggests that 17 percent of voters in Weller’s district had a positive impression of the governor and just about one-quarter said they approved of the job the Democratic-led Legislature was doing.

“People are somewhat fed up,” an Illinois GOP operative said.

The survey, taken between April 14-16, included 400 likely general election voters and had a 4.9-point margin of error.

Other results of the Republican poll also suggest that Democrats may face a more difficult time in flipping the seat. Once Weller made for the exits last fall, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began making its move, arguing that former President Bill Clinton twice won the district.

But the survey suggests Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) may not have such luck winning the district. In the GOP ballot test, the home-state Senator won 41 percent of the tally, while presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) took 49 percent.

“A lot of this district is not Obama’s demographic,” a state GOP operative said. “It’s small towns, rural areas, and the suburban part of it is middle class suburbs.”

“This district is different. It’s kind of a suburban seat, but not entirely,” the source continued. “The majority of the district is in counties you could consider rural.”

To make their case, Republicans also argue that Halvorson represents less than 20 percent of the Congressional district and that the perhaps most-telling electoral metrics are not Clinton-era — or even the fact that President Bush carried the district twice — but from Congressional district-level data from the 2006 governors race.

According to Republican electoral data provided to Roll Call, despite winning statewide by wide margins last cycle against former state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka (R), 50 percent to 39 percent, Blagojevich actually lost Weller’s district, 44 percent to 43 percent.

While the GOP is banking on a Halvorson-Blagojevich nexus to dash the Democrats’ hopes of flipping the seat, Democrats — who have not conducted a survey in the district — claim that Ozinga’s own alleged close ties with Springfield and City Hall should nullify the Blagojevich effect.

“For Ozinga, there might be something to worry about,” a state Democratic source said. “Does Ozinga lead with his chin, when so much is already been written about his contributions?”

Those contributions included a $10,000 check from Ozinga to Blagojevich in 2005, according to state campaign finance records. Local Chicago media outlets also have detailed Ozinga’s questionable use of city contracts for minorities, and a $25,000 donation to the Hispanic Democratic Organization, which is reportedly aligned with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D).

“I almost choked when I saw he’s a giver to [the Hispanic Democratic Organization],” a Democratic source said. “Blagojevich bashing only works when you’re not one of his contributors.”

The source added: “Crusading against pay-to-play and machine politics is laughable when you’re mucked up in front companies to win minority set-aside contracts.”

Recent Stories

We all became Bob Graham

On Senate floor, Mayorkas impeachment sparks procedural clash

Senate dispenses with Mayorkas impeachment without a trial

Steve Garvey: Not the next Jim Bunning

Capitol Lens | Former Sen. Bob Graham, 1936–2024

Foreign aid supplemental unveiled in House; Biden supports