BY JAMES MONTELEONE, KRYSTIN KASAK and LOGAN MOLYNEUX, Medill News Service
Fueled by a slashing negative TV ad campaign and deep pockets, Gov. Rod Blagojevich sideswiped Republican Judy Baar Topinka’s gubernatorial aspirations Tuesday, cruising to victory by a hefty margin.With a majority of the precincts reporting statewide, Democrat Blagojevich won by a margin of 49 percent to 40 percent for Topinka, with Green Party candidate Rich Whitney bringing up the rear with roughly 11 percent of the vote. Sheila Nix, Blagojevich’s spokeswoman, said Topinka called the governor to concede defeat shortly before 10 p.m. late Tuesday.
Shortly later, the winner appeared at his campaign headquarters in a metals firm at Clybourn and Ashland avenues to claim his victory.Continuing his theme as an Elvis Presley wannabe, he said: “I think it’s fair to say I’m all shook up.” Next, he complimented his opponent. “I have one thing to say about Judy Baar Topinka,” he said. “She loves the state of Illinois.
“Getting things done for people has been the guiding principle of my administration,” he told a cheering crowd. “That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Then he added: “Strap on your seat belts. Put on your helmets. We have a lot more work to do for the hard-working people of Illinois.”
Earlier, with strong indications of trouble for Topinka, her spokesman, John McGovern, would only say: “We felt we finished very strong, and Treasurer Topinka was very happy with the momentum.” Joe Birkett, who ran for lieutenant governor on the Topinka ticket, bristled when the Associated Press called the race for Blagojevich shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday.”I think calling the race this early is very irresponsible,” he said at Topinka’s campaign headquarters downtown. “In one of the largest counties in the state, the polls are still open for another hour. And exit polls have a poor track record in calling races this early.”
Birkett, the DuPage County state’s attorney, lost to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn in his bid for higher office.
Before acknowledging her defeat, Topinka, 62, had spent the earlier part of Election Day with her son, Joe, an Army major.
Charges and countercharges of corruption marked the gubernatorial campaign.
Topinka battered Blagojevich with allegations that federal investigators had his government in its sights. Topinka said the probe focused on his administration’s hiring practices and an unusual $1,500 birthday gift for his daughter from a friend whose wife was appointed to a state job.
In the later stages of the campaign, Blagojevich had to explain away his relationship with one of his top fund raisers, Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who was indicted for allegedly shaking down companies who wanted state business.
In response, Blagojevich maintained that he knew nothing about the scandals and fired ethical questions back at his opponent.On numerous occasions, the governor attempted to link Topinka to former Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted of racketeering and money laundering. The governor also tried to highlight questionable no-bid contracts that occurred on her watch as state treasurer.
Negative ads turn off some
Many voters said they were turned off by the negative ads from both sides, while others were disappointed by the lack of substance in a traditional face-to-face debate, despite initial promises of a dozen toe-to-toe clashes. Months of bickering over the details of the debates finally ended with the limited exchange of views.
The hour-long October debate, held in Decatur, served as simply another opportunity for the candidates to cry corruption and to intensify their criticisms of each other. The candidates used the session to accuse each other of lying, leaving many of the real issues to fall to the sidelines.
Blagojevich’s pockets were far deeper than Topinka’s. The two raised funds at nearly the same pace, but Blagojevich started with an $11 million advantage.
“I think you will see what massive amounts of money will do,” Topinka said at a press conference before the election. “Money and elections have just gotten obscene. I’m not wealthy; I knew that coming out of the box.”
Blagojevich served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years before being elected governor in 2002, defeating Jim Ryan, who had the misfortune to bear the same last name as the much-maligned Gov. Ryan.