A new statewide poll confirms what most of knew anyway. If Barack Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee, he will do a whole lot better in Illinois against Republican John McCain than will Hillary Clinton. But there's more to it than that.
The SurveyUSA poll of 600 Illinois registered voters was released last week. It found Obama trouncing McCain in a hypothetical matchup 60-31. Clinton, on the other hand, leads McCain by a far smaller margin and is held under 50 percent, 48-37.
The poll, conducted February 29th, found Sen. Obama has big leads with both men and women, while McCain would beat Hillary Clinton by ten points among men (48-38). And Obama stomps McCain with independent voters 60-29, while Clinton has a slight lead, 39-36.
In fact, according to the new poll, Obama wins every demographic except Republicans and conservatives, but his margins there are narrower than are Clinton's.
Obama even wins the suburban collar counties against McCain by twenty points, 57-37, and he holds a 52-32 lead among Downstate voters. Clinton trails McCain in the suburbs 47-34, but does lead Downstate, 49-42. Obama's margin in suburban Cook County, which will be the location of several state legislative showdowns this November, is far higher than Clinton's. Obama is up 60-32, while Clinton leads 51-32.
The numbers clearly show why Illinois Republicans are so nervous that Obama might pull off a nomination win. McCain isn't doing particularly spectacular against either candidate, but the national Republican Party is likely to spend some money in Illinois if Clinton is the nominee. They'll likely abandon the state if Obama is at the top of the ticket, which could cost Republicans about a million dollars in national cash and could lead to some serious legislative blowouts in unexpected places.
One top legislative Republican speculated last week that an Obama presidential campaign could cost the Illinois Senate Republicans at least two additional seats this fall. The House Republicans, who faced little opposition from the Democrats in 2006, would likely lose more.
Republican congressional candidate Jim Oberweis' convincing loss in a suburban special election earlier this month also proves that in this environment Republicans at the state legislative level - where name recognition is lower than the US House - need to have strong candidates, and they need to work them hard and pray four or five times a day that Obama doesn't win the nomination and then cut ads for their Democratic opponents.
Oberweis was a disaster on just about every level, and few down-ballot Republicans are nearly that bad. But the Republicans need to recognize that every Republican in that district could be in danger come November when Oberweis runs again for the seat. Oberweis' November candidacy might very well pull down some of their down-ballot candidates. Add that to any Obama effect, and the Republicans have to be tearing their hair out right now.
Which leads us to this story.
Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) said last week that he is seriously considering resigning his unpaid leadership post with the Senate Republicans because he was "clearly misled" by Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson.
Dillard claims Watson promised to appoint him to recently retired state Sen. Todd Sieben's assistant minority leader slot.
But that didn't happen. After Sieben retired, Sen. Dale Righter was appointed to the paid position. Righter, who has been serving as a sort of de facto floor leader for leadership during debates, had been the Senate Republicans' caucus chair, which is also an unpaid leadership job. Sen. Dale Risinger was then given Righter's old spot.
Dillard said he would use the current two-week spring break to decide whether he will continue as minority whip or step down from leadership altogether, "since I believe I was misled."
Dillard lost an election for the top Senate Republican Leadership job to Watson after Senate President Pate Philip decided not to continue leading the caucus when the Democrats took control of the chamber in 2003. Relations have since been somewhat tense between Dillard and Watson, and weren't helped much when Dillard appeared in a TV ad for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
With the Obama polling and Oberweis' candidacy problems, the last thing the Republicans need right now is another round of divisiveness. But that may be just what they get. The infamous Illinois Republican circular firing squad never seems to miss its target.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.