February 24, 2004
My last few posts about the election have been a bit pithy due to some other commitments, so I want to lay out my position about the state of the race a bit more explicitly here. Fellow blogger Chicago: Howtown has particularly called me out on some of my comments, so I’ll be partially answering his critiques. So here goes.
My post from yesterday in which I predicted that the race would tighten now that Hynes and Obama have started their airwave assaults may have slightly exaggerated their upcoming rise, but I do think that we will see a very tight race indeed. There are a lot of other factors involved beyond the saturation of t.v. spots, like some as of yet revealed dirt on any of the candidates and whether Washington and Skinner decide to drop out (the latter unlikely), but I really do think that the race will get very interesting down the stretch.
Howtown thinks that the polls won’t change much, because Hull can match or best the amount of ads Hynes and Obama can each unleash. But I don’t think that the poll numbers for the next few weeks will just be about the level of exposure of the three candidates. That worked before the final stretch of the election, because voters weren’t actively following the race. That early phase was all about getting your name out there so that the voters would recognize it when the real race began. Hull is new to Illinois politics so it was necessary for him to get that name recognition. Obama and Hynes would have benefited from this too (they’re not exactly household names in the state), but they don’t have the money Hull has and have to depend upon their offices to legitimate them. So now with three weeks left we enter a new game and three Democrats have been deemed viable candidates: Obama, Hull, and Hynes.
In this phase, voters will start paying attention and getting nit picky. Some may still continue to be wooed by Hull’s media saturation and relatively well strategized campaign, but I think for most voters the experience factor will be an essential criteria in which they judge the candidates. After being beat over the head with Hull ads, voters will start to remember that there are a few other candidates on the ballot (pretty decent ones in Obama and Hynes), and they will start to reconsider Hull in new terms. “Sure this guy’s claim to be above special interests is attractive, but how do I know that he will be an effective legislator? How do I know he’s not b.s.ing me with his populist appeal and just trying to buy a Senate seat?” The answer to this question by some voters will be that you just can’t know because this guy has no record to back up his rhetoric. Obama and Hynes do. And even though one might not agree with everything that these two candidates have done, one can see how they reacted to the pressures of trying to serve the public (Obama especially as a State legislator). Add to this skepticism the fact that Hull didn’t vote until he was 50 years old (and didn’t vote in the 2000 Presidential election!) and you can see how some voters will be turned off by Hull. Some will still buy his anti-special interests platform, but my guess is that more voters will not and will gravitate to Hynes or Obama.
As an aside, I have to say that personally Hull’s voting record alone pretty much excludes him from consideration. How unacceptable is that? The guy might be a brilliant man, but if he didn’t reach political consciousness until a year or two ago, how can I trust that he will be able to be even remotely effective in Washington. Does he even know legislative procedure? How can we expect him to be familiar with the important recent history of the plethora of issues that he will surely face as a U.S. Senator? There’s outsiders who haven’t been skewed by years of being in the beltway and then there’s outsiders who just didn’t pay attention to politics in their life. By the logic that an outsider is by default a better candidate than seasoned politicians, my uncle whose closest dealings with politics is the Jay Leno monologue would make a great Senator. Now of course I’m not suggested that Hull couldn’t become a fine Senator, my point is that we just don’t know. All the rhetoric about his independence doesn’t move me because it’s just that, rhetoric. At least with Obama and Hynes I can dispute them on what they have done in the past.
Mr. Howtown is also struck by Hull’s “complete lack of influence from special interests.” First off I’d like him to define what types of special interests he is talking about, because if he means that Hull is immune to the typical workings of Illinois machine politics he’s mistaken. Hull has endorsements in the State from some of the most well connected politicians (Luis Gutierrez, Bobby Rush, Dick Mell, not to mention whoever Blagovich has handed to him) and with that comes all sorts of special interest support. Perhaps Mr. Howtown has more specific and nefarious special interests in mind, but if what he means is community organizations and the support they can hand politicians I’m not sure if that is necessarily a bad thing. Such organizations are representatives to blocks of the electorate and work as advocates for them. Is this what is so tainting? In any case, I think we should be careful about being wooed by special interest bashing these days. Everyone this side of Dick Cheney claims that they are against special interests.
Another note is that in terms of the Hull scandal, I’ve actually distanced myself from it as evidenced by my posts in the last week. As I said a few days ago, I don’t like this type of slime. As a rule, I don’t care what people do in their personal lives, even if it is reprehensible. As long as these actions are completely outside of their duties and aren’t criminal, I purposely am not concerned. This is the one place where the slippery slop argument is justified. Nevertheless, I have mentioned the scandal on this blog but only in terms of the effects that it will have on the polls if the Hull crew doesn’t handle it right. If he’s known as the wife beater candidate by the voters, even if it’s not true, that’ll kill his numbers. It’s not right but it happens. People have been crucified for lesser things. Ask Gary Hart.
As for Obama’s lack of concentration down state and reliance on lake front liberals, that much seems true. Obviously, he’s strategized to make the most out of those voters more likely to support him by concentrating in specific areas in the city. Hull is smart to go for the grannies down state and so far it’s working.
So in sum, I’m predicting that things will get very close in the coming weeks. Obviously, Hynes and Obama have tremendous ground to make up, but I think it’s possible. At least I have enough confidence in Illinois voters to assume that they won’t let their votes simply be bought. Again, this is not to say that Hull should be excluded outright because of his money. I just think he should get a State Senate seat and get some experience so we can all have something by which to properly assess him.