Democratic gubernatorial challenger Edwin Eisendrath has been using some startling poll results to recruit his top staff, and the numbers appear encouraging. But the big question - how much money he will spend - is still not known.
Eisendrath commissioned a benchmark poll in November. His pollster is Dave Fako, founder of Fako & Associates. Fako once worked for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and specializes in polling for local races. After a stint as Paul Vallas' numbers guy, Fako has become one of the most often-used and most trusted Democratic pollsters based in Illinois.
The poll surveyed 601 likely Democratic primary voters. It has a margin of error of 4 percent and was taken November 18 through 22.
According to Eisendrath's poll, Governor Rod Blagojevich's job approval rating among likely Democratic primary voters is 47 percent, while a majority, 51 percent, disapprove.
In contrast, SurveyUSA's November poll had Blagojevich doing much better among self-identified Democrats: 52 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove. But SurveyUSA's tracker just surveys Illinois residents. It doesn't specifically screen for registered voters, likely voters, or likely primary voters. And because it is a generic poll, the margin of error for SurveyUSA's Democratic subset is much higher - 6.3 percent in the firm's November tracker. Still, it's an independent poll and Eisendrath's survey is a candidate poll. Consider yourself forewarned.
The Eisendrath poll found that Blagojevich's job approval rating was positive in only one region, Chicago. 55 percent of likely Chicago Democratic primary voters approve of his job performance, while a rather large 41 percent disapprove.
Everywhere else, the poll found that Blagojevich is in big trouble. South of Springfield, 42 percent approve of his job performance and 58 percent disapprove.
>From Springfield north, excluding Cook and the collars, just 38 percent approve of the governor's job performance, and a whopping 62 percent disapprove.
In the collar counties, 42 percent approve and 56 percent disapprove.
Suburban Cook County had much the same story to tell.
And 45 percent approve and 53 percent of likely Democratic Cook County primary voters disapprove of the governor's job performance.
Fako defended the fact that two of the regions (both downstate) showed results that added up to 100 percent - not an everyday occurrence in polling. The governor is very well known, Fako said, adding that respondents were nudged a bit to provide a response one way or another. The higher margin of error for regional subsets could have also played a part, Fako said. (The poll numbers were supplied by the campaign, not by Fako, in case you're wondering. I used every ploy I could think of for a week to pry the results loose from a campaign that has already gained a reputation for being extremely tightlipped about this sort of stuff.) Fako said he did not run a head-to-head comparison of the insurgent candidate against Blagojevich. Eisendrath is such an unknown that the numbers might not provide much insight.
But they did toss in one horse-race question. According to the poll, Blagojevich has a 60-26 lead over Republican frontrunner Judy Baar Topinka among likely Democratic primary voters. That result, if true, is absolutely miserable for the governor and very encouraging for Topinka. If she really is getting a quarter of hardcore Democrats, then she is in great position for the fall campaign - if she manages to win the GOP primary.
Eisendrath's campaign manager, Brandon Hurlbut, said last week that the Fako poll was a big reason he signed on with Eisendrath because it showed that Blagojevich was definitely beatable. Other Eisendrath staffers have broadly hinted at the same thing. Hurlbut cut his political teeth in Glenn Poshard's 1998 race, got his law degree and eventually got back into politics.
Word is that Eisendrath will be running downstate ads soon, but a launch date and the size of the buy could not be confirmed. Nobody knows yet how much Eisendrath will spend on this race, although he told one paper that he estimates between $3 million and $5 million. Regardless of any poll numbers the campaign may leak, insiders are generally reluctant to predict that he will be a contender until they see those dollar signs. Gov. Blagojevich has so much cash that it colors every response to a possible contender, no matter how poorly the governor has done in every poll to date.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at thecapitolfaxblog.com.