Earlier this week, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin bewailed Governor Pat Quinn's political situation: "Gov. Quinn has problems. Big problems."
Marin pointed to State Senator Bill Brady and a GOP governor's group burst of television advertising as Exhibit A to prove Quinn's perilous political position.
"Quinn's GOP opponent has been hammering away with ads attempting to paint him as a failure and Brady as the alternative," wrote Marin.
Indeed, Brady has spent $600,000 in ads, according to Marin, to introduce himself to Chicago-area voters, and the Republican Governor's Association has chipped in another $400,000 to batter Quinn on ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich and taxes. And Quinn's campaign allowed the ads to go unanswered.
And you know what?
Brady's poll numbers have tanked by 9 points.
Last week, Public Policy Polling unveiled a new survey that shows Brady leading Quinn only 34% to 30%, down from 43% to 33% in April. In fact, in April Brady had 80% of Republicans behind him -- now he has 70%. Additionally, despite the big bucks advertising, 56% of Illinois voters still have no opinion about the ultra-conservative lawmaker from Bloomington.
It is nearly unprecedented in an election campaign for a candidate to spend nearly $1 million on television ads both promoting himself and attacking his opponent -- while the attack ads go unchallenged -- and yet drop 9 points in the polls. Astounding.
Marin's colleagues in the mainstream press have stepped up their reporting of Brady's legislative record and gaffes on the campaign trail. The news media coverage of the veteran, but virtually unknown, lawmaker is likely eroding Brady's standing.
Brady's right-wing voting history opposing abortion, gay rights, the minimum wage, equal pay for women and other issues puts him seriously out of whack with the more moderate temper of Illinois voters -- Democrats and Republicans alike. Moreover, Brady has proved unsteady on the campaign trail, for example, denying, repeatedly, he advocated for a "10% across the board budget cuts" even when television news video shows, otherwise or for attacking Quinn at a press conference earlier in the year for withholding early-release prisoner names that had already been posted on a state Web site.
Despite the deflation of Brady's support, Marin's original thesis that Quinn has "big problems" remains true. The better known Quinn has been languishing in public opinion purgatory for months, drawing only an overall 27% approval rating and a 50% disapproval in the June 12-13 Public Policy Polling survey. Moreover, Quinn is commanding the support of only 51% of Democrats.
Illinois Democrats seem to be disenchanted by both of the party's leading candidates this year, which could end up aiding Republicans across the ticket," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "For Quinn to win this race he needs to reinstate
voters' confidence in his ability to be a state administrator but ultimately, and more
importantly, reunite Illinois Democrats.
Quinn's problems stem from not only economic gloom glowering at voters and but also from the Quinn administration itself. Quinn inherited a raft of mismanagement and corruption from Rod Blagojevich, but he has birthed some of his own problems, problems which are weighing, like iron cannon balls, on his approval ratings.
The early-release of 1,718 inmates at the beginning of the year -- which included violent prisoners and repeat drunk drivers -- who served, on average, 37 days but some as little as 11 days, was a problem of the Quinn administration's own devices. Quinn's primary opponent, Comptroller Dan Hynes, mercilessly battered the governor in television ads and in the press over this issue during the campaign, inflicting serious damage to Quinn's reputation in the eyes of voters.
And Brady only today swung the prisoner early-release cudgel at Quinn, demanding House and Senate judiciary committee investigations into an Associated Press story that claims the whereabouts of at least 50 felons released under the program remain unknown, including one on murder-related charges.
"If true, these public reports show an outrageous disregard by this administration for the victims of these dangerous criminals, and for the public safety of Illinois," said Brady.
Quinn can, however, reverse his parlous position if he and his allies can accomplish two tasks. First, they must rapidly etch Brady's most egregiously extreme positions on the frontal lobes of the 56% of voters who have no opinion of the Bloomington lawmaker. Second, they must trumpet more powerfully -- e.g. via broadcast television ads -- Quinn's jobs and economic recovery agenda.
That means campaign cash.
Marin claimed Quinn lacked money to respond to Brady's early commercials. Quinn, last week, however, told me at a fundraising dinner, that the absence of his own ads was a question of strategy. "Voters aren't pay attention now. But we're going to fight in trench warfare in the last eight weeks."
And Quinn's campaign finance director, David Rosen, told me that the governor has a "full calendar" of fundraising events for June before the crucial end-of-month reporting deadline, adding, "Neither candidate will be under-funded."
Given that Brady and the GOP governor's $1 million worth of television ads have left the Republican candidate in worst shape than from where he started, Quinn clearly has a point.
Still, the broader contours of the race and the political environment favor Brady.
If Quinn aims to win, he and his allies, such as the Democratic Governors Association, may need to launch the "trench warfare" start date much, much sooner.