Pivots, predictions in final election column
by RUSS STEWART
Now is the time, just days away from the Nov. 4 election, for all astute candidates in still-winnable races to "pivot." If they don’t, they lose.
After months of pummeling their opponents with negative ads and mailers designed to trash their reputation and credibility, to solidify their own base and to diminish their foes’ polling numbers, "pivoting" is a switching of gears. It’s finally time to give the voters a reason a reason to vote for somebody, not against somebody.
The goal of negative advertising is to cap the opposition’s polling at 45 percent or less and to nudge one’s own numbers in the 45 to 50 percent range. That aids fund-raising and encourages outside spending by political action committees, but there’s always the thorny problem of the late-campaign undecided vote, usually 8 to 10 percent. They’re the voters who either are not paying any attention, have concluded that both candidates are utter imbeciles, or need some reason to opt for one of two unpalatable choices. Other options in the race for governor are to vote Libertarian or to not vote at all.
Hence, negative ads cease to be price- or vote-effective. Positive ads, overcoming a years’ worth accumulated misgivings, are obligatory. That means testimonials from credible people, endorsements from newspapers or an avalanche of targeted mail to one-issue, special-interest voters.
A classic case in point: In the 2010 Illinois governor’s race, incumbent Pat Quinn and challenger Bill Brady were both mired in the mid-40s in the polls. Brady was hammered as an "extremist," and Quinn was tied to the disgraced Rod Blagojevich. The election, as usually happens when an incumbent seeks re-election, had become a referendum on Quinn’s performance. Normally, if undecided voters are not enamored with the incumbent and are still waffling just before Election Day, they break heavily for the challenger. Quinn needed a wedge to give undecided voters a reason to vote against Brady.
Barack Obama, the pro-choice Personal PAC and NARAL groups, and the newspapers came to Quinn’s rescue. Obama taped ads which were run only on radio stations with a black listenership and placed ads in black community newspapers. The pro-abortion rights groups, which had built a vast mailing list of 100,000-plus pro-choice contributors and supporters, sent out three mailers in one week ripping the pro-life Brady as being opposed to a "woman’s reproductive rights." Quinn’s last ads showcased his media endorsements. He also, incredibly, claimed he was "cleaning up corruption" in Illinois, even though Blagojevich and the Democrats were the culprits. It worked. The undecideds broke 55-45 for Quinn.
Quinn, who should have lost, managed to win by 31,834 votes out of 3,792,770 votes cast, which was just 50.5 percent of Illinois’ 7,506,073 registered voters. Quinn’s vote total of 1,745,219 (46.8 percent of the total cast) was just 23.2 percent of the total voter pool. Less than one in four Illinois voters wanted to keep Quinn. He won because he ginned up his base and gave undecided voters a reason to vote against Brady.
Can Quinn replicate his feat in this election? Here’s a look at, and predictions for, key contests.
Governor: In a recent column I tabbed Bruce Rauner’s $75 million effort to be governor as the "worst campaign that money could buy." As in 2010, both he and Quinn had so demonized each other that neither could reach 45 percent in tracking polls. In fact, Rauner had plunged from 51 percent in August to 41 percent 60 days later, but now, with the latest polls showing a dead heat (the Oct. 21 Chicago Tribune poll had Rauner up 45-43 percent and the Oct. 22 Rasmussen poll had Rauner up 48-47 percent), it’s time to pivot.
The undecideds, at least 8 to 12 percent of the voters, have been saturated with negativity and find neither candidate palatable. So how is Rauner to rehabilitate his candidacy? He was handed a gift denied Brady — he was endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Herald. Even if the undecided voters don’t read those (or any) newspapers or did not read the endorsements, the imprimatur of the papers’ mastheads carries great weight. Rauner’s wife, Diana, a liberal feminist Democrat, appeared in closing ads attesting to her husband’s "shake up Springfield" resolve. The pro-choicers are up to their usual tricks, but Rauner is pro-choice. It will be up to the pro-Quinn public sector unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union — to drive up turnout.
Quinn’s final ads are negative: Accusing "Rauner’s nursing homes of neglect and patient deaths," even though Rauner is simply a stockholder.
Quinn’s appeal is sort of like an Egg McMuffin: Bland, puffy and digestible. Lots of platitudes, lots of mendacity, lots of new taxes, but, hey, he hasn’t been indicted yet. A governor who’s not too bright, not too trustworthy, and not too corrupt. He’s a keeper: The best Illinois can expect.
Rauner’s problem was that his candidacy is too edgy and is destined to bring turmoil to state government. Do Illinoisans want to rock the "ship of state," or do they want to continue to be masochists and joyfully accept the tax-and-spend punishment and insider deals inflicted by the dominant Democrats? The question is: Can it get any worse, or is the present "worst" the best?
Rauner’s media endorsements alleviate those fears. Just over half of undecided voters need to be reassured that they’re not stupid and that Rauner is not Darth Vader. They now are. The breakage to Rauner, which was not evident in mid-October, is now. Quinn’s last-week commercials will be negative, tying Rauner to a nursing home chain with a high incidence of patient deaths and injuries, in which he was an investor, or maybe he’ll resurrect his laughable "Jobs Governor" ad.
The governor’s redemption could only have come from a Rauner misstep, and Rauner has been surprisingly deft, gaffe-free and disciplined. However, Rauner’s focus on boosting his vote in Cook County’s predominantly black wards and townships is a serious misjudgment. Rauner needs to boost his vote south of Interstate 80, where Brady won by 345,138 votes in 2010, and in the Collar Counties, which Brady won by 114,573 votes. As Quinn won Chicago and Cook County in 2010 by more than 500,000 votes and will again on Nov. 4, Rauner has to either increase his Downstate plurality to over 375,000 and his Collar County plurality to over 125,000, or get half the Libertarian vote, which was 100,756 (2.7 percent of the total) in 2010, and/or get 60-70 percent of the 135,705 votes that independent Scott Lee Cohen got in 2010.
Turnout will be around the 3.7 million of 2010, well below the 5.2 million of 2012. The bulk of that non-presidential year falloff of 1.5 million will be Democratic-inclined younger voters and minorities.
My prediction: Polling pegs both Rauner and Quinn at 45 percent (around 1,675,000 votes each), and Libertarian Chad Grimm is worth 75,000 to 125,000 votes. Thus, this week’s sound and fury will focus on the 225,000 to 250,000 undecideds. For whom will they break, if they vote? Historically, if undecideds are not for the incumbent in the election run-up, they break heavily for the challenger. In the aberration in 2010, they broke 60-40 for the incumbent. In a choice between "least worst" candidates, Rauner wins by 25,000 votes.
20th Illinois House District: The contest is McAuliffe v. Khan, not Roe v. Wade, but you would never know that from the deluge of mail claiming that Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe going to interfere with a woman’s reproductive rights and limit access to abortion. "It’s a federal issue, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," McAuliffe said. However, Democrat Mo Khan, working with Personal PAC, has sent at least four mailers to every registered woman in the district. To counter that, McAuliffe is spending money on mailers hyping his support of "women’s issues." McAuliffe will win, but Khan is making him sweat.
10th U.S. House District: Creationism is alive and well on the North Shore. When in doubt, just deceive, deny and fabricate. Incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider beat one-termer Bob Dold in 2012 by 3,326 votes in a turnout of 264,454. Barack Obama won the district 157,400-112,552. Obviously, district voters are adept at ticket splitting, and they readily support Republicans who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Dold is both. He’s back for a rematch, he has plenty of money, and Obama is not on the ballot. A late-September poll had Schneider up 46-44 percent.
Schneider is hammering Dold as the "Tea Party candidate" who is part of the "Republican agenda" in Washington, which opposes reproductive rights and marriage rights. All falsehoods. Dold is running as the "change" candidate, which is nonsense, as he will be a junior congressman if he wins, and he is blasting Schneider for failing to disclose his tax returns. Schneider has marched in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and Obama.
The question: Are voters smart enough to discern the lies? With turnout down to about 240,000, Dold will win in a squeaker, by fewer than 500 votes.
55th Illinois House District: Incumbent Democrat Marty Moylan is in Mike Madigan’s pocket. The speaker tells him how to vote, and the speaker funds him. This year Moylan will spend $800,000 to be re-elected, most supplied by Madigan and the unions; he’s already had 14 mailers. Moylan’s theme is that he is "fiscally conservative and socially compassionate." The Republican candidate is Mel Thillens, the Park Ridge Park Board president, who is being attacked for "raising taxes by 50 percent."
In actuality, he raised the tax levy by 6.5 percent over three years. Even though Thillens is pro-choice, he’s being attacked by Personal PAC mailers. Slight edge to Moylan.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.