Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) has continuously brushed aside notions that he wouldn't run for governor on a third party ticket, saying last week, for instance, that he is very encouraged by the results of a new poll he commissioned which shows him right in the race.
The Meeks poll has some more bad news for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but also a rare spot of good news. The survey was taken April 25-30 by Washington, DC-based pollster Lester & Associates and has a margin of error of 3.9 percent.
According to the survey, Gov. Blagojevich's "generic" re-election numbers are not that great. When asked whether he deserves re-election, just 36 percent agree, compared to 55 percent who want someone else. Nine percent didn't know. Blagojevich's job approval is 35 percent, with 45 percent disapproving and 20 percent not knowing. But even with those lousy numbers, for the first time since the primary Blagojevich is leading Judy Baar Topinka, 47-40.
When Meeks is tossed into the equation, Blagojevich leads with 41, Topinka has 34, Meeks has 12, and 13 percent are undecided. After several "push questions," which were designed to test Meeks' message of his religious affiliation, his opposition to gay marriage and abortion and his support of billions more in school funding, Blagojevich drops to 37 percent while Meeks and Topinka are tied at 25 percent each. Undecideds remain at 13 percent.
This last result, with Blagojevich still leading after the "push" questions and Meeks hurting Topinka much more, could help Meeks ward off critics, especially in the black community, who claim that his candidacy would destroy the Democratic governor's chances.
This is also pretty much exactly where Meeks said he needed to be to even consider a run. Meeks said shortly before the poll was taken that he wanted, at a minimum, to be at 10 percent in the pre-push horse race question, and then have that doubled after the push. He exceeded both of those goals.
Meeks also included a question about the arguments for and against his run. Just 27 percent agreed with the statement that Meeks should not run because "an Independent African-American candidate from Chicago could doom Governor BlagojevichÕs chances of winning re-election." While 56 percent agreed with the statement that Meeks should run "because the Democrats have taken blacks and others for granted and itÕs time for a change."
Meeks still won't say whether he has made up his mind yet about the race, and I'll grant you that those post-push numbers are artificially high (as they usually are). But what matters is not whether you and I believe he is tied with Topinka at 25 percent, it's all about whether he believes it.
Meanwhile, Topinka's own polling shows that Gov. Blagojevich has moved ahead of her. After four straight independent polls with Topinka leading, her latest poll reportedly shows Blagojevich with a 5-point advantage. The governor's polling also reportedly shows him ahead.
The Blagojevich surge is undoubtedly the result of the governor's television advertising campaign. The guv is spending over $500,000 a week, mostly on negative ads that attack Topinka for everything from not showing up for state investment board meetings to tying her to George Ryan's budget deficits.
So far, the Topinka campaign has refused to respond in kind, preferring instead to blast back at the governor via press conference and press release.
Even with the five-point polling deficit, Topinka's people point to Republican Jim Ryan's 18-point deficit at this time in the campaign four years ago as proof that she is doing much better than others have. Dawn Clark Netsch was down 30 points to Jim Edgar at this point in 1994, the Topinka people say.
But Republicans and others are still getting nervous about Topinka breaking the cardinal rule that TV advertising attacks should always be immediately answered. Dawn Clark Netsch didn't respond when she was attacked early, and neither did Glenn Poshard in 1998. Jim Ryan also didn't have the cash to immediately strike back in 2002. Still, Topinka's campaign has believed her poll ratings would carry her through for a little while.
The Republican worries are compounded by the breathtaking collapse of support for national Republicans in general and President Bush in particular. They're right. She needs to get in the game soon.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at thecapitolfaxblog.com