Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka is somewhere in the middle on abortion issues. Because of that, both extremes hate her.
Last week, Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice group Personal PAC held a press conference to urge reporters to find out whether Topinka is pro-choice or not. The groups claim she has "flip-flopped" all over the issue, a battle cry that the pro-life side will almost surely take up as its own.
To help prove their point that she is a flip-flopper, the groups released votes on a bill from 1981.
Back then, Topinka was in the Legislature and a parental consent bill was introduced. Topinka voted with Planned Parenthood on one amendment, voted with the pro-life side on a different amendment and then voted "Present" on the bill itself. Those votes were described in a way that made it look like she voted on all sides of the legislation, when, in reality, she was voting on individual issues.
That sort of stuff happens all the time in Springfield, of course. But it shows what sort of challenges lie ahead for Topinka and how far the groups will go in attacking her. Neither side, both highly organized, experienced and well-funded, will run to her defense on abortion when one side attacks. According to Planned Parenthood, Topinka voted "against reproductive choice" 79 percent of the time. Topinka supports the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, however. In other words, she's far too pro-life for the choicers and too pro-choice for the right-to-lifers.
Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and Rod Blagojevich are all very pro-choice. Edgar was even endorsed by the National Abortion Rights Action League when he ran for governor the first time. George Ryan had it both ways because his legislative record was pro-life enough for the pro-lifers and much more "reasonable" to the pro-choicers than his hardcore pro-life Democratic opponent Glenn Poshard. If Topinka makes it out of the primary, she'll be in uncharted waters. We haven't had a truly middle-ground candidate on this issue in a long time.
Making it out of the primary, of course, is the first task at hand. And that pro-choice press conference was a sign of interesting times ahead.
Until this week, the governor and his campaign adamantly refused to comment about any attacks from announced Republican gubernatorial candidates.
And then Judy Baar Topinka stepped into the race.
A Blagojevich campaign spokesperson held an impromptu press conference shortly after Topinka's formal announcement to attack Topinka for being part of the deficit problem that Blagojevich inherited from George Ryan. The spokesman ignored questions about the governor's ethics, and tried to keep the focus on the budget.
That unusual press conference followed the pro-choice press conference the previous day.
Then, the governor himself got into the action, telling Chicago's ABC-7 television news that Topinka was part of the reason for the deficit he inherited.
I think we'll see more of this in the coming weeks for two reasons. The f irst is obvious. Blagojevich and everyone else figures that Topinka is his most likely opponent and they're going to respond right away to any attacks, before they have a chance to sink in with voters.
The second is less obvious, but it's something I've been talking about with people for many months. Columnist Russ Stewart beat me to the punch the other day with the same sort of analysis. The idea may be to try to weaken Topinka enough in the primary that she actually loses and Blagojevich ends up with a hard-right opponent, which would allow him to change the subject from corruption and competence to ideology.
Former Democratic Governor Gray Davis did this well in California - spending millions in the GOP primary and helping an ultra-conservative Republican defeat a moderate candidate, then winning in November.
I wouldn't rule out the chance that at least one and maybe more of the governor's interest group allies could run ad campaigns attacking Topinka before primary day, with the governor weighing in occasionally himself.
And even if Topinka doesn't lose the primary, a nasty spring proxy attack would help soften her up for the fall's general election, when the third-party attacks will almost surely intensify. A similar strategy worked last year when groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth undermined Democratic presidential contender John Kerry in key battleground states with their outrageous claims.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.