(Chicago) – In what could be one of the top 2016 Illinois House contests, freshman State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) holds an early lead over her Democratic opponent, teacher and activist Marsha Griffin also of Murphysboro.
In a January 28 poll of 348 likely 2016 voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer for its e-newsletter, The Insider, that subscribers received on February 2 (subscribe here) Bryant leads the unknown Griffin by 11-points, 41.1-29.9%. 29.0% are undecided. The poll, conducted by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry, had a +/- 5.36% margin of error.
To measure voter support beyond name identification, voters were asked to choose between “Democrat Marsha Griffin” and “Republican Terri Bryant.”
While the safety zone for a candidate is to be above 50%, being nine-points away from support by a majority of voters nine-months before the general election is good place to be for a freshman lawmaker during a period when voters are in a surly mood.
Still, there are warning signs for Bryant and political obstacles in her path that must be overcome before she can claim a second-term in November.
First, Bryant’s job approval rating is a lukewarm 32.2% while her disapproval is 30.2%. 37.6% are undecided.
“A nearly 1-1 approve/disapprove warns of big trouble ahead for an incumbent,” a top campaign operative told The Insider. Moreover, in 2014, Bryant thumped her Democratic opponent, former Jackson County Sheriff Bill Kilquist, 60.8-38.9%. Voter enthusiasm for Bryant seems to have since deflated.
Second, Bryant faces a political challenge over the still shuttered Tamms Super-Max security prison.
In Southern Illinois, prisons are politics and politics are prisons. As one of the few viable economic engines in rural regions, the Illinois corrections system assumes oversized importance in local elections and often is the issue upon which those contests turn.
Tamms was, of course, closed as a cost cutting and human rights move in 2013 by then Governor Pat Quinn before Bryant won her office. But the TAMS issue is largely why House Speaker Michael Madigan‘s political operation recruited Griffin. Griffin has been a vocal leader in the push to reopen Tamms as a rebranded maximum security correctional facility along the lines of the Pontiac prison.
Griffin, a wife of a laid off corrections officer, started a faith-based, non-profit group called My Brother’s Keeper after Quinn’s prison closings. She also started a petition drive that has collected over 5,000 signatures. Those names provide Griffin a ready-made contact list for donations, volunteers, sign locations, etc.
Third, Bryant could the lose the support of a key ally, the Illinois Education Association.
In 2014, the IEA went with Bryant big time and donated $104,000 to her campaign, making the group her third largest donor after the Illinois Republican Party and the House GOP. On August 4, 2015, Bryant also banked $15,000 from the IEA. But a top source tells The Insider that the IEA, which historically stands with incumbents who have been previously endorsed, has decided to throw open its endorsement process, forcing Bryant to compete with Griffin for the powerful union’s official backing.
“This almost never happens,” the source said.
Fourth, Governor Bruce Rauner, despite crushing Quinn in the district in 2014, is deeply unpopular as well as his “grand bargain” that he pledged to pursue in order to settle Illinois’ budget stalemate.
In 2014, Rauner defeated Quinn 60.3-33.5% (Libertarian Chad Grimm took 6.1%), but the new poll says that his job approval rating is just 27.3% while his job disapproval in this GOP district is an eye-popping 55.5%. 17.2% are undecided.
Moreover, Rauner’s pledge “If I get structural reform, I will raise taxes” – made to reporters after the November 28 meeting with four legislative leaders – is also unpopular. According to the poll, only 21.3% support the grand bargain while 53.7% oppose it. 25.0% are undecided.
Still, despite those obstacles, Bryant remains the favorite in the fall election because of the conservative region’s steady and profound drift away from Democrats and the virtually unlimited resources that the governor and his allies can provide.
In 2014, Kilquist grabbed an initial lead in polls after launching an early TV ad campaign only to fade once Bryant’s campaign went on the air with its ads. In 2016, Bryant will have all the money that she needs from the start to fund an early and aggressive TV ad blitz.
Bryant will be tough to defeat.
RAUNER ENDORSES MCCANN OPPONENT… Governor Bruce Rauner on Thursday night announced his endorsement of Republican Bryce Benton in the GOP state Senate primary contest in the 50th District in Central Illinois over incumbent Sam McCann of Carlinville.
“I am proud to announce that I support Bryce Benton for State Senate in the 50th District,” said Rauner at the Sangamon County Lincoln Day Dinner. “Bryce Benton serves the citizens of Illinois as a State Trooper. He makes sacrifices for the people of Illinois every day. He serves others, not himself. He has the utmost integrity and can’t be controlled by the special interests.”
“Send a message” says Rauner.
“I’m asking you to join me in supporting Bryce Benton for State Senate,” said Rauner. “We have to send a message to the special interests – that their days of controlling Illinois are over. Illinois needs people like Bryce Benton who will serve our state with integrity and honor. We can’t afford to elect politicians who serve themselves and the special interests.”
McCann last year bucked Rauner over a key bill sought by AFSCME that would require an impasse in contract negotiations between the union and the Administration to go to arbitration.
Benton says Rauner needs “more allies” in the state Senate.
“It’s an incredible honor to receive the support of Governor Rauner,” said Benton. “Governor Rauner wasn’t elected to maintain the status quo. Voters all over Central Illinois sent him to Springfield to turn our state around, and now he needs more allies in the Senate. The Governor has endorsed me because he knows that I won’t bow to the demands of special interests and will fight for all of Central Illinois.”
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