The 2008 general election is almost nine months away, but you don't have to listen too closely to hear some of the first shots of the 2010 governor's race being fired.

Last week, one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Vallas popped his head up in Chicago with an announcement that he would speak at the City Club in April. The Daily Herald caught up with him a couple of days later, and Vallas said he's committed to running the New Orleans school district for "at least another year," but refused to answer any political questions. Even so, his appearance set tongues wagging throughout the state's political circles.

Comptroller Dan Hynes is also considered a potential candidate for the state's top job, particularly if Attorney General Lisa Madigan takes a pass. Hynes spent most of last week using his advantage as a fiscal conservative to rake the governor for mismanaging the budget.

Hynes tried to throw a fiscal net over Gov. Rod Blagojevich in advance of the governor's budget address this week. Hynes visited editorial boards last week with a newly released "special report" claiming the state is so deep in the red that the governor ought to avoid any huge budgetary expansion until he can get the state back in the black.

On substance, Hynes is absolutely correct. Revenues will almost certainly decline throughout Fiscal Year 2009 whether or not the economy heads into a recession. Word going around last week was that projected revenue growth for the upcoming fiscal year might be half what they were projected to be for this fiscal year. And even the governor's office admits that state revenues for the current fiscal year will fall $750 million short of expectations, not to mention the billions of dollars in bills the state is having trouble paying.

If you think I'm being too cynical about Hynes' motives, you should also know that Hynes went to the editorial boards armed with statistics showing that the number of uninsured Illinoisans did not decrease at all between 2003 and 2006, despite the money and effort expended by Gov. Blagojevich (Barack Obama's presidential campaign may not have appreciated that shot, considering Obama's claim to have insured so many people here, but the point has so far been lost in the shuffle). Hynes even talked about the decreases in higher education spending while at the Sun-Times editorial board meeting. This was obviously more than a budget horrors tour.

Even Republican Joe Birkett is getting into the act. The 2006 lieutenant governor candidate held a press conference last week to call on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. Birkett also demanded that killing children 16 and under be made a capital offense. The current death penalty law automatically kicks in for murders of children under 12.

It's pretty well known that Birkett has been positioning himself for yet another statewide run ever since his running mate Judy Baar Topinka lost to Blagojevich in 2006. Most believe he has his heart set on the governor's office, so his press conference seems to be his first big public step in that direction.

President George W. Bush has been so unpopular that candidates started actively and openly campaigning to replace him two years before the 2008 election. People wanted him gone, and that partially explains the record turnout by primary and caucus voters in both parties in several states to date. Gov. Blagojevich's unpopularity rivals that of Bush's, and the same early campaign scenario looks to be playing out here.

The federal corruption trial of Blagojevich fundraiser and adviser Tony Rezko will most likely only heighten interest and activity, particularly now that we know an FBI mole will testify to seeing one of the governor's aides take a wad of cash at Rezko's office, and that the US Attorney's office claims Rezko had weekly meetings with the governor's patronage chief and that the feds have announced that Blagojevich administration "insiders" will testify at Rezko's trial.




Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and