Chicago Sun-Times - Steve Neal
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Steve Neal

Downstate could push Hynes over the top

October 8, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

He's the leader of the pack. State Comptroller Dan Hynes, who is among the state's top vote-getters, is maintaining a steady lead over the 2004 Democratic field for the U.S. Senate. His Downstate support currently gives him the edge over his four major rivals who are from Chicago. But with more than a third of the voters undecided, the nomination is still up for grabs.

Hynes, 35, the only Democratic contender to have won statewide office, is known by nearly three-fourths of likely primary voters. Half of all Democratic primary voters have a favorable opinion of him, while just 6 percent don't like him.

He has been the nominal front-runner for the Democratic nomination since last winter, when former Sen. Carol Braun (D-Ill.) made the surprise announcement that she would not seek to win back the job that she narrowly lost to Republican Peter G. Fitzgerald in 1998. Hynes had planned to run even if Braun attempted a comeback. Polls indicated that Moseley Braun would have won the primary.

But since her withdrawal, Hynes has consistently led the Democratic field. Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and state Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) are formidable challengers and have kept it close.

A late summer poll of 1,000 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted for Hynes by the Global Strategy Group of Washington, D.C. It showed Hynes in front with 26 percent, followed by Pappas with 15 percent, Obama with 12 percent, former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico with 4 percent, commodities millionaire Blair Hull with 3 percent, perennial candidate Joyce Washington with 1 percent, and radio personality Nancy Skinner with 1 percent.

Hynes is leading the Democratic field because of his Downstate support. He is favored by 31 percent of Downstate Democratic voters, leading his closest challenger Hull by 20 points. Hull has moved ahead of other contenders Downstate because he is the only candidate who has aired commercials in all of the state's media markets. He is vowing to spend a record $20 million in an effort to buy the senatorial nomination.

The Downstate vote could well determine the outcome of the primary. As the only contender to have won statewide, Hynes enjoys advantages Downstate over his rivals. He is supported by influential Downstate party leaders, including Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Glenn Poshard, former Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) and Ed Smith, international vice president of the Laborers' Union.

According to the Hynes poll, Pappas and Obama both do well in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs but are in single digits Downstate.

Hynes is favored by 24 percent of Chicago Democrats, followed by Obama with 19 percent and Pappas with 18 percent. Thirty percent of Chicago Democratic voters are undecided, according to the Global Strategies poll. Hynes' city support is probably understated in the polls because he has the backing of the strongest Democratic organizations on the Southwest Side and also has support of several Northwest Side and lakefront Democratic organizations.

In the collar counties, which will also be important, Hynes is favored by 30 percent of Democratic voters, followed by Obama with 11 percent and Pappas with 7 percent. Obama has recently picked up the endorsements of several prominent Lake County Democrats, but Hynes also is developing a strong organization in the collar counties and believes that he can nail down the nomination by doing well in these suburban areas.

Hynes, who has twice been endorsed by labor, is favored by 27 percent of union households, while Obama is favored by 14 percent and Pappas by 13 percent. It is uncertain whether the state's largest labor federation will make an endorsement in this primary.

According to Democratic sources, Margaret Blackshere, president of the AFL-CIO, is pressing for a Hynes endorsement. But Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), citing Obama's 91 percent pro-labor voting record, is making a compelling argument for Obama. It is probable that the labor federation will be neutral.

Hynes has made few mistakes in his campaign and would be the clear favorite over any prospective GOP rival. In a clear sign that Hynes is ahead, he is being stalked by a camera crew funded by the big-spending Hull. It's disappointing that Hull's campaign would engage in such sleazy tactics. If Hull goes negative against a decent public official like Hynes, most voters will reject such nonsense.





 
 











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