Somebody's Got to Win | Bleader

Monday, January 25, 2010

Somebody's Got to Win

Posted By on 01.25.10 at 04:06 PM

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From the campaign blog of Alexi Giannoulias:

"'The poll confirms that our message of standing up to special interests and creating jobs is resonating with voters,' said Giannoulias, who has maintained double-digit leads over his primary opponents despite their negative attacks. 'Voters have a clear choice next Tuesday for someone who can move this country forward, turn our economy around and create opportunity for all Americans.'"

Alexi's referring to the Tribune poll released yesterday showing that he continues to lead four rivals in the Democratic primary for Barack Obama's old Senate seat. It makes sense that he'd want to tout his frontrunner status—but like almost everything else in this race, his statement has less to do with facts than with his discipline in sticking to a campaign script.

About a third of the people polled for the Trib said they supported Giannoulias, the state treasurer, compared with 19 percent for Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson and 16 percent for former city inspector general David Hoffman.

But a quarter of the respondents said they weren't decided, which means that even though he's a statewide office holder who's been campaigning for the Senate seat for at least a year, Giannoulias's is "resonating" with far fewer people than he'd like.

Lucky for him, he's still out-resonating his competitors. Jackson has done a good job of getting African-American leaders and artists behind her—she's even got Lupe Fiasco performing a benefit show for her this week—but she hasn't been able to expand much beyond her base. Hoffman nearly doubled his support from last month but still isn't widely known.

As I noted in a story for this week's Reader, voters have mostly checked out. There are a number of reasons, but I'd argue that one of them is that these guys have been so focused on trying to explain away their respective deficiencies that they haven't actually said much to convince people that who they elect matters. If you're into that sort of thing, check out their discussion on Chicago Tonight last week to hear them all respond to questions with a series of rehearsed soundbites instead of actual answers.

Here's the short version of what I found in covering them all:

Hoffman is a bright and personable guy who's also uptight in a way that suggests he'd stay on the straight and narrow; when I was with him on a campaign trip to DeKalb last month his driver and campaign staffer had to run into a local Steak 'n Shake, after we'd been through the drive-through, because Hoffman discovered there weren't enough napkins in the car. He's good at taking questions on public policy—I heard him offer an impressive analysis of the history of banking regulation in response to a voter's question—but he has to spend so much time telling people who he is (the guy who wrote the report blasting the parking meter deal—you know, in Chicago) and who he's not (Alexi Giannoulias, Rod Blagojevich, all the other alleged insiders and corrupt politicians you always hear about) and how he's supported by all the newspapers and legendary googoo Abner Mikva and he worked as an aide to a senator ... snore, snooze, snore.... what's he running for, again?

Jackson has yet to provide a straight answer about what she saw during her time as Blago's spokeswoman. As she told me, "I was no different than Joe Citizen. I had no way of knowing whether those allegations were true." But she wouldn't say what she meant by "allegations." Similarly, she couldn't give a straight answer to Carol Marin about whether she supported gay marriage. It seems that she doesn't, but that just might be because she needs the support of clergy who don't, but then again, maybe she really believes civil unions are the answer, but then again ... we still don't know.

Attorney Jacob Meister and physician Robert Marshall are still so far down in the polls that they couldn't even get an invite to Chicago Tonight. This has compelled Meister to file a complaint with the FCC.

Which brings us back to Giannoulias. He's been asked a zillion questions about his family bank and his performance as treasurer, and I can't count the number of times I've heard him compared to another telegenic, populist-oriented politician who relied on connections more than experience to rise up through the ranks: Rod Blagojevich.

Giannoulias, of course, says there's no resemblance. "I always thought he was slick," he told me when I asked about our former guv.

But he and his team have run a brilliant campaign, packaging him as a though he's made millions of bucks from his family bank, keeping him in mostly friendly settings such as TV ads, and turning some of the most damaging questions into strengths—he's not the guy who oversaw risky lending, he's the guy who stood up to big banks; he didn't lose families' college savings, he helped them recover it; voters don't want to hear about the two jobs he's held through the years, they want to know he's "standing up" for their jobs. So far it's worked. To those who aren't tuned out he comes across as more comfortable than the others. I won't be surprised if it takes him all the way to the Senate.

Let's be honest: Alexi might very well be the latest candidate to show it's possible to win without resonating with the voters. As I was told last night by the member of an ad hoc focus group otherwise known as my buddies sitting around watching football, "I suppose I should look into who's running—and hey, man, will you grab me a beer?"

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