Rudin Pulls Up Illinois On His Political Scorecard

The midterm elections are mere days away and political editor Ken Rudin is back for another mini-installment of the Political Junkie. Rudin joins host Neal Conan to track the latest ups and downs in Illinois and other states on his Political Scorecard.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

In a few minutes, we're going to talk with syndicated columnist Clarence Page about where to find the separation of church and state in the Constitution, which has come up in a couple of political campaigns this fall. But we're also going to enlist(ph) Clarence as part of another in our series of mini-Political Junkies. NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us, the fourth day in a row. Ken, we should note, and we should want to talk about the Senate race in Illinois.

There is still not clear favorite for President Barack Obama's seat, though, Congressman Mark Kirk, the Republican, appears to be holding a steady lead.

KEN RUDIN: Well, steady but slight. And I think the reason everybody cares about this race is, as you say, it was President Obama's Senate seat. And then, of course, it was up to the Honorable Rod Blagojevich, the - then governor of Illinois, who would make the appointment. And he appointed Roland Burris, who is not running for the seat. So, obviously, the Republicans would love the symbolic opportunity to take President Obama's seat.

Mark Kirk is a moderate conservative. He won his primary on February 2nd. Had there'd been a Tea Party back then, or at least an active Tea Party early in the year, perhaps he might not have survived the primary because he has taken some very moderate positions on certain social issues that the Tea Party may not accept. But at the same time, with all his problems appealing to conservatives and things like that, you have the Democratic nominee, the state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, who is before he was state treasurer, he was his family owned the Broadway Bank, which gave very questionable loans to some very questionable people. And so, basically, there's two flawed candidates running for a very important Senate seat.

CONAN: Mark Kirk also found to have some difficulties inflating his military career. Clarence Page, how do you read the Senate race in Illinois?

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Syndicated Columnist): It's driven me crazy, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: I'm sure Ken understands, you know, because all the polls have gone back and forth. It's really going right down to the wire. And it's going to be one of those old-fashion Chicago, Illinois, elections where you got to get out the vote. And because it's a midterm election, and also coming before an upcoming Chicago mayoral race, February or election in February, there's going to be a problem, you know, getting the whatever's left of the machine, if you will, ginned up to get people out in the streets. So I think it will go down the wire.

RUDIN: Yeah. I've heard that some Democrats are so discouraged that some Democratic voters are considering only voting once.

Mr. PAGE: That's right. I mean, that says about what a crisis it is. But, you know, the same national trend, anti-incumbent mood and I'm sorry anti-Democratic mood is afflicting Illinois Democrats in the wake of the Rod Blagojevich scandal. We have one Republican governor in jail now, and Blagojevich won as the reform candidate after that. So now people are as angry at Blagojevich and the Democrats as they were with the Republicans before. So that, too, could be good for Kirk. But it's going be down the wire, I think.

CONAN: Mr. Blagojevich convicted on one felony count and faces retrial on others. That'll be coming up, I think, now after the mayoral elections in...

Mr. PAGE: In April.

CONAN: ...in April.

Mr. PAGE: That's right.

CONAN: So that's been punted. But isn't Illinois basically a Democratic state?

Mr. PAGE: Basically, in recent years, yes, it is. But as I mentioned, you know, it went Republican right before Blagojevich. And...

RUDIN: It's 16 years. It's 16 years in a row, right?

Mr. PAGE: That's right. So, you know, underneath it all, the fundamentals statewide, it's a swing state. But Chicago and Cook County, that Democratic base is so strong. And it has spread to the inner suburbs so that Democrats have had an edge. But this year, you know, again, the energy and enthusiasm is with the Republicans.

RUDIN: And you also have a gubernatorial race which is so fascinating, too. You have an unheralded downstate legislator, Bill Brady, who is basically nobody ever heard of, and he barely won the Republican primary for governor. And now he's running against the incumbent, Pat Quinn, who became governor when Blagojevich was impeached and convicted and left the office. And Brady is winning in almost every poll. And that would be pretty remarkable if that happens, as well.

Mr. PAGE: Right.

CONAN: So what could be a tie in Illinois for the Republican Party, it's very interesting. Ken, stay with us.

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