Sunday, July 27, 2008

Illinois Senate: Trying to Create Something Out of Nothing

By Nathan L. Gonzales

You can’t manufacture a competitive race with a poll and a press release.

It would be generous to call GOP nominee Steve Sauerberg a long shot against Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D) in Illinois. But you wouldn’t know it by the rhetoric coming from the Republican’s campaign.

“New Polling Shows Sauerberg within Striking Distance of Durbin,” blared a July 15 release. The campaign points to a July 12 poll by Southern Outreach showing Durbin ahead of Sauerberg 52 percent to 35 percent.

“This polling confirms what we have long believed,” Sauerberg campaign manager Christopher Hage said in the release. “No amount of money from Washington special interest groups will be able to change Dick Durbin’s disastrous 25-year record in D.C.”

But there are multiple problems with the release and analysis. First, the poll doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s an automated poll of 1,500 likely voters taken on a single day. And Southern Outreach, known more for its phone banks than survey research, doesn’t have much of a polling track record.

Second, despite Hage’s claims, money will be a factor, should a race actually develop.

Durbin had more than $8.1 million in the bank on June 30, compared with just over $1 million on hand for Sauerberg. Through the second quarter, Sauerberg raised only $431,000 from individuals, but he dumped in $1.3 million of his own money. Business consultant Dan Seals — the Democratic candidate seeking to oust Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in November — had more campaign cash than Sauerberg at the end of last month, and he’s running in only one of the state’s 19 Congressional districts.

In addition, 60 percent of poll respondents said they didn’t know enough about Sauerberg to have an opinion of him. His campaign views it as a “tremendous opportunity for growth,” but he’ll need more than $1 million to boost his name identification. Maryland resident Alan Keyes (R) spent more than $2.5 million when he received 27 percent of the vote in the 2004 Senate race against Barack Obama (D). At least Sauerberg is doing better than Keyes in the polls.

Finally, the Sauerberg press release points out the Durbin is under 50 percent, and led Sauerberg by “only” seven points, outside the Chicago-metro area. You can file that information under “irrelevant” since Chicago votes will count in this election.

It must be tough to work for a campaign that’s given no chance, and every press secretary has a job to do, but the Sauerberg campaign is about to experience firsthand the financial power of Durbin and the downballot impact of Obama. No matter what Southern Outreach shows, this is race is not in play.

This item first appeared on on July 23, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.