Lynn Sweet breaks another big story with her piece here in today's Sun-Times on Judy Baar Topinka's plans to run for governor. (It's not quite a breaking story, but this seems like the first big media piece that says Topinka is definitely planning to run. And Sweet breaks the story by accidentally running into JBT's main staffer Nancy Kimme outside of Speaker Hastert's office. That's good journalism.)
Anyway, I think Judy Baar Topinka is, by far, the most formidable challenge to Rod Blagojevich in the state. Remember, Bobby Rush endorsed her over Tom Dart for State Treasurer in 2002, proving she has a lot of crossover appeal (and yes, I know that Dart backed Obama in 2000 when Obama ran against Rush for Congress, but still, a Dem ward committeeman endorsing a Republican statewide is a big deal, and wouldn't be considered without strong appeal by Topinka).
I think the biggest liability that Blagojevich faces among liberals is the perception that Topinka is more likely to back raising the income tax from 3% to 4% than Blagojevich. A 4% or 5% state income tax is long overdue (the main reason why poor Illinois kids have below-average schools), and most civic people believe that. Governor Blagojevich's 2002 campaign platform centered in part on not raising the 3% income tax. But he does not need to center his 2006 campaign around the same bad policy. Neither does Judy Baar Topinka. I believe that there's a swing voter constituency (maybe 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the electorate) that will back the candidate that is perceived to be more open to a 4 or 5 percent state income tax. So if Blagojevich campaigns on promises not to raise the 3 percent income tax to 4% or 5% in his next term, then I think he is potentially in some trouble.
The truest part of Sweet's article was this nugget:
*Blagojevich is popular with women, especially those who are more than 60 years old.
Older women love this guy! My favorite line from the '02 primary was a heavier woman with a nice Bridgeport accent in her fifties with a Rod button on. I asked her why she supported him and her answer was: "He's young, he's good-looking, he wasn't rich when he started and he's rich now." What are you going to say to that?