By Mary Massingale Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – As statewide candidates were likely breathing hard to keep up a breakneck pace of campaign stops across the state on Monday, Illinois voters were likely breathing a sigh of relief, as the hours tick down to Tuesday's general election.
“The races have been unusually nasty, and focused not on the issues but the personalities,” said Jim Nowlan, a former state lawmaker who now works with the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
Questions about inflated military service, fiscal integrity after the failure of a family bank, basic competence, and a sketchy budget plan have dogged the candidates for U.S. Senate and Illinois governor in television, Internet and radio ads – while clogging the airwaves with a persistent negativity on top of the dismal lingering of the recession and Illinois $13 billion budget deficit.
“If voters were depressed before the campaign started, I imagine they’re really depressed now,” said Kent Redfield, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
But the race was still on Monday, as gubernatorial candidates Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington both scheduled fly-arounds of the state. Brady started in Chicago, and was slated to visit Springfield, Champaign and Cahokia in the St. Louis Metro East area, and end with a rally in Wheaton. Quinn began in Chicago and planned visits to Rockford, the Quad Cities, Peoria, Champaign, Cahokia and Carbondale before ending back in Chicago.
U.S. Senate hopefuls Democratic Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Congressman Mark Kirk were making similar whirlwind tours of the state to grab the votes of those still undecided.
However, 586,349 voters have already decided and voted during the state’s early, absentee and grace period voting, according to Rupert Borgsmiller, assistant executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“We still have in-person absentee voting today, so the numbers could go up,” Borgsmiller said.
He expects a total turnout of around 50 percent of the state’s 7.4 million registered voters, in keeping with tallies of past gubernatorial elections. The 2006 contest of now-convicted Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Republican and former Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka saw 48.6 percent of voters turn out, Borgsmiller said.
He noted the highest turnout for a gubernatorial election since 1978 came in 1982, when 65 percent of registered voters turned out for the contest of Republican Gov. Jim Thompson and Democrat and former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III.
“All of the parties have been working on get-out-the-vote, and tomorrow we’ll find out who did the best job,” Borgsmiller said.
But when voters do get out and vote, they don’t necessarily have the best candidates to choose from, Redfield said.
Kirk’s questionable military service and Giannoulias’ failed family bank may have created fodder for negative political ads but also raised doubts among voters.
“No one is running through walls to vote for either one of these candidates,” Redfield said. “There is not a lot of enthusiasm out there.”
A Public Policy Polling survey on Monday had Kirk leading Giannoulias, 46-42, for President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
Quinn and Brady appear to be faring no better.
“You’ve got two accidental candidates,” Redfield said, referring to the conservative Brady’s slim 193-vote primary win over state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, and the liberal Quinn’s elevation to governor from lieutenant governor in early 2009 after Blagojevich was impeached, convicted and thrown out of office by lawmakers.
“What are the chances that even one of these guys would be a nominee, and now we have both of them,” Redfield said.
Quinn is pushing a one percentage point – or 33 percent – increase in the state’s income tax to primarily fund education, while Brady is calling for a 10 percent across the board cut in state government and placing the State Board of Education under the governor’s control.
The same PPP survey had Brady leading Quinn, 45-40.
The recession and an anti-incumbent mood among voters have Democratic officeholders nervous – “Democrats are going to get killed, it’s just how many,” Redfield said – but he still expects Democrats to hang on to control of the legislature since the state's map of legislative districts was drawn by Democrats.
But once the election is over, voters may start holding their breath, as the re-elected or newly elected switch from campaign mode to governing mode – we hope.
“I’m sure the race has been all about winning and not about governing,” Nowlan said. “Precious little thought has been given to governing.”