Poll: Duckworth Zaps Zopp in U.S. Senate Democratic Primary

"We're running a poll to test what I'm hearing from people, and if that poll comes out positive, then I have every strong expectation that I am going to get into the race," Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp told National Journal in an interview on Friday, May 1, regarding a potential primary fight with U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) over the right to challenge U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) in 2016.

On Friday, May 15, the Chicago Sun-Times' Michael Sneed reported that Zopp, who has been recruited by ex-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, had decided to run.

Apparently, Zopp got her poll results back.

But "positive," as far as a primary goes at least, must be an assessment fixed firmly in the eye of the beholder.

According to a new poll of 1,051 Democratic primary voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer for its subscriber e-newsletter, The Insider, Duckworth is cleaning Zopp's clock, winning 50.8 percent to 5.2 percent.

Brutal. Positively.

The survey, conducted by Ogden & Fry on May 16 with a +/- 3.08 margin of error, showed 44 percent of Democratic primary voters undecided.

"Congressman Tammy Duckworth not only holds a commanding lead of potential rival Andrea Zopp, but she also exceeds the important 50 percent mark," Ogden & Fry pollster Tom Swiss wrote in his polling momentum.

Still, even with a 45-point lead, the bulging number of undecided Democratic primary voters gives Zopp, who was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an opportunity, Swiss acknowledges.

"It is not surprising to see a large undecided percentage early in a race, but this could develop into something significant if a rival candidate catches momentum," Swiss wrote.

Some insiders think that Democrats need an African-American at the top of the Illinois ticket in 2016 in order to motivate black voters to the polls and they fret that Duckworth, who ran a centrist campaign in her failed first bid for Congress in 2006 against U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), will fail to ignite enthusiasm among the Democratic base.

Duckworth's support in 2006 for the extension of President George W. Bush's controversial tax cuts, including those for the wealthy, for example, will hurt her with progressives, they argue.

They worry about media reports from the 2006 campaign that showed her endorsing the Bush tax cuts, such as that of then-Daily Herald reporter Eric Krol that could undermine enthusiasm among the Democratic rank-and-file.

"She doesn't favor rolling back the income tax rate cuts - even for the wealthy - saying she'd 'leave (them) where they are at present.' Duckworth also favors rolling back only half of the Bush administration's proposed tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, even though she argues they disproportionately help those with the most money," wrote Krol for a March 16, 2006 story.

In 2015, Democratic grass roots fume over the top 1 percent and chafe at centrist Democrats who are perceived as allies of the wealthy and corporate chieftains.

For Duckworth to be undermined by her earlier embrace of the Bush tax cuts, she would need a Senate primary opponent to raise the issue.

Enter Zopp - and Bill Daley.

Some Democratic insiders see the Zopp-Daley tag team - both of whom who possess lucrative corporate resumes and both of whom who both could be 1 percent poster children themselves - as part of a Daley effort to ingratiate himself with Governor Bruce Rauner, who appointed Daley to his gubernatorial transition team and who is fully committed to Kirk, by aiming to weaken the financially flush and well-known Duckworth in an expensive, bitter primary or secure a narrow victory for the unknown Zopp.

Within hours of the disclosure of the Zopp candidacy, the Illinois Republican Party issued a statement attacking not the potential new challenger to Kirk - but Duckworth, confirming their fear of Duckworth and indifference towards Zopp.

"Tammy Duckworth is a partisan voice who sides with Washington insiders and powerbrokers, not the independent-minded people of Illinois," said Nick Klitzing, Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party. "The inability to clear her path in the U.S. Senate primary demonstrates a massive failure by her Washington friends."

Not a word about Zopp. Zero.

If Zopp taps the Daley clan's network of corporate campaign donors and begins to raise her profile, she may well likely begin to move some of those 44% undecided Democrats into her column and perhaps as well as pick off some of Duckworth's supporters, creating a competitive, expensive campaign. That would force the second-term congresswoman to spend the $1.5 million that she already has in the bank on Zopp, not Kirk.

And that's exactly what the Kirk and Rauner camps would like to see.

Were Zopp to win, that would be the bonus.

But Zopp, a former general counsel to Exelon and Sears, is no U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Zopp, who did Emanuel's bidding by voting to close 50 Chicago Public Schools, will be hard pressed to morph into a progressive darling in order to challenge Duckworth's centrist record.

That ain't gonna fly.

And Duckworth should avoid becoming too enamored with her early lead.

That could be fatal.


David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.