The latest Chicago Tribune poll appears to track closely with recent polls conducted by two Republican statewide contenders.
The Tribune poll found Judy Baar Topinka leading the GOP governor's race with 38 percent, followed by Jim Oberweis at 17 percent, Ron Gidwitz finally breaking into double-digits with 11 percent and Bill Brady bringing up the rear at 8 percent. 25 percent were undecided.
That matches up pretty well with polls conducted by two GOP gubernatorial candidates whose campaigns shared their results last week on the condition that the numbers not be revealed.
Topinka and Gidwitz were the biggest gainers from the last Tribune poll in October, both of them picking up 7 points. Gidwitz has almost tripled his October numbers, but he has spent millions of dollars on TV ads in the process. Topinka has done little actual campaigning since October, but the word has had time to get out to "regular" Republicans that she is the organizational choice. Oberweis picked up two points and Brady picked up one.
The results could be looked at as a call for Gidwitz and Oberweis to go negative on Topinka, but that move can carry a big risk.
Topinka and Oberweis are evenly splitting "very conservative voters," according to the Tribune. About the only way for Oberweis to let those voters know he's one of them and Topinka isn't would be to run so-called "comparative" ads that are usually highly negative in tone.
If the moderate Gidwitz allows fellow moderate Topinka to hover around 40 percent for long, he'll never pick up enough votes to win. Yes, Gidwitz's numbers are going up, but it's been like spending a fortune to budge the Titanic a foot off the ocean floor.
Word from inside is that the Gidwitz and Oberweis campaigns have been strongly urging each other for days through an e-mail exchange to start the attacks on Topinka, but neither side is apparently willing to do so yet. Gidwitz, like many political neophytes, is reportedly very reluctant to get down and dirty. Oberweis is already viewed negatively for his infamous 2004 "black helicopter" ads, and probably doesn't want to suffer the consequences of being the first to pull the trigger against Topinka.
Candidates who attack usually succeed in driving down their opponents' numbers, but those newly disaffected voters don't immediately (or ever) gravitate towards the negative campaigner.
However, voters who buy into negative attacks often either head temporarily into the undecided column or, if it's a crowded field, choose a different candidate. The most famous instance of this was the 1992 Democratic US Senate primary when Al Hofeld's well-funded negative assault on Alan Dixon drove voters into Carol Moseley-Braun's camp. Negative campaigns also usually at least temporarily drive down the numbers of those running the ads.
Oberweis seems most intent for now on keeping fellow social conservative Bill Brady as near to zero as possible, or getting him out of the race once and for all. Brady has aggravated Oberweis to no end by using a direct mail campaign to paint the dairy magnate as a flip-flopper. Brady appears to be hoping to deprive Oberweis of conservative votes so that he can then consolidate his position and move into second place, and pray that enough late money pours in to fund the drive to the finish line. If Oberweis attacks Topinka, it's possible that voters might head to Brady.
For now, though, Brady just doesn't have the funds to compete, at least that we know of. His first TV ad was very good, but there were so few ratings points behind it that nobody saw it enough to do Brady any good. Word is Brady just bought ads on Chicago cable TV. Total buy: $5,000. Jim Oberweis spends more than that handing out free ice cream every day.
Meanwhile, the Tribune poll found that if Edwin Eisendrath could put together a real campaign he might make it at least a somewhat respectable race. Just 52 percent of Democrats want to see Rod Blagojevich reelected, according to the poll. Just 42 percent of Democrats thought the state was heading in the right direction, while 38 percent chose wrong direction. But Eisendrath hasn't spent any money, got in way too late, struggled for weeks just to find a downstate coordinator, and now trails Blagojevich 62-18.
The line on Eisendrath is that a Blagojevich indictment would sweep him to victory. He may need a conviction.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at thecapitolfaxblog.com.