Costello lifts Hynes' prospects

July 16, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Rep. Jerry F. Costello of Belleville, the most influential Downstate Democratic leader, is supporting state Comptroller Dan Hynes for the U.S. Senate.

''Dan is our party's strongest candidate. He has won two terms in statewide office and has done very well in Metro East and Southern Illinois," said Costello, 53, an eight-term congressman. "Dan has spent a lot of time in this area and has delivered for Downstate."

Democratic sources said that Costello played a behind-the-scenes role in Downstate millionaire trial lawyer John Simmons' decision to withdraw from the Democratic senatorial race last week and throw his support to Hynes.

"John did that on his own," Costello said. "He decided that he did not want to be a spoiler and made an unselfish decision. John has a bright future and is one of the up-and-coming guys in our party."

Others seeking the Democratic senatorial nomination are former Board of Education President Gery Chico, commodities millionaire Blair Hull, state Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago), Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, and health care executive Joyce Washington. Since all of them are from Cook County, which casts about two-thirds of the statewide primary vote, it is probable that none of them will emerge from the Chicago area with enough votes to win the nomination.

If Downstate provides the swing vote in the Democratic primary, Costello's endorsement could give Hynes the edge.

Hynes is the only Democrat in more than a decade to win Downstate with a majority of the vote in back-to-back elections.

With Costello's backing, Hynes must be considered the favorite in the 11 counties of the 12th Congressional District.

"This endorsement catapults Dan to the front of the Democratic pack," said Rep. William O. Lipinski (D-Chicago), who is also supporting Hynes.

In last year's Democratic gubernatorial primary, Costello produced the votes in Madison and St. Clair counties that gave Rod Blagojevich his statewide margin of victory over former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas. Blagojevich received 69.2 percent of the primary vote in Madison County and 59.4 percent in St. Clair County. "Jerry was Blagojevich's most important endorsement and this is crucial for Hynes," said Lipinski.

There is no doubt that Costello's endorsement of Hynes will have impact. A former chairman of the St. Clair County Board, Costello has close ties to Democratic officeholders and party leaders across southern Illinois.

Costello delivered his congressional district for Blagojevich by more than 33,000 votes. The governor's statewide plurality over Vallas was 25,469 votes.

Former Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.), Costello's longtime ally, joined him in supporting Blagojevich and is expected to also endorse Hynes.

Former Rep. Glenn Poshard (D-Marion), the 1998 Democratic nominee for governor, who also has close ties to Costello, is already committed to Hynes. Earlier in the year, Poshard briefly explored the possibility of making a comeback to run for the Senate. But Poshard, who has just retired as vice chancellor at Southern Illinois University, decided not to run and views Hynes as more electable.

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Vince DeMuzio (D-Carlinville), former state party chairman, is co-chairman of the Hynes campaign. DeMuzio is the only Downstater of the last half century to serve as state party chairman.

Ed Smith, vice president and regional manager of the Laborer's International Union, the most influential Downstate labor leader, has signed on as co-chairman of the Hynes campaign.

Teamsters Joint Council 25 and Joint Council 65, which together represent 31 locals statewide with 145,000 members, have endorsed Hynes. So have the Building and Construction Trade Councils, which have more than 200 Downstate locals, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

A benchmark poll for Hynes conducted last spring by the Global Strategy Group indicated that his 43 percent Downstate name recognition is nearly triple his nearest competitor.

Hynes was favored by 32 percent of Downstate Democratic voters, with none of his rivals in double digits. But 55 percent of the Downstate vote is undecided. The poll indicated that Hynes is strongest among Downstate men, college graduates, and voters 55 and older. With Costello's aid, Hynes may boost those numbers.