June 6, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
I swear, I'm only watching NBC's "I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here" for the politics.
For the record, I can't stand Spencer and Heidi, the Hollywood brat couple; pray Stephen Baldwin, the C-grade actor, never takes his shirt off again, and marvel how Torrie Wilson, the model-wrestler, keeps her mascara from running in the steamy Costa Rican jungle.
But I'm focused on Patti Blagojevich. Our gritty former first lady is the most normal member of this colossally insipid cast. And long-suffering in behalf of her cash-strapped-indicted-former-governor-husband and kids.
I love it when she talks politics.
On Thursday's episode, she dissed cranky teammate Janice Dickinson, comparing her to a past political opponent.
"My husband had this campaign," she recounted, "where he was running against this woman . . . he thought of her as like a crazy . . . kooky old aunt. You had to be respectful because she's your old aunt."
Who was that unnamed woman?
Republican Judy Baar Topinka, of course. Not that I'm necessarily subscribing to Patti's characterization or buying that Rod Blagojevich was ever remotely respectful. (Let's recall how, in that 2006 governor's race, he used video of Topinka's polka with now-imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan, in a snarky ad that sneered, "What was she thinking?")
My point is that, like a "Jeopardy" question, we all could name that Republican candidate before the buzzer went off. But could you quickly name another? Or is it like the jungle test of sticking your hand in a bucket of eels to retrieve a star? Hard to do.
Republicans in Illinois don't have a star. Nobody with instant, statewide name recognition who could run in 2010 at the top of the ticket.
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk comes closest. But though he handily won re-election in the 10th District along Chicago's suburban North Shore and adjacent suburbs, Kirk is not a household name.
Even if he were, you'd need two of him. One to run for governor, the other to run for U.S. senator.
Kirk is said to be considering both but is smart enough to know the challenges. Though the Democrats have presented the opposition with mind-boggling opportunities like the disaster of Rod Blagojevich and his tarnished Senate appointee, Roland Burris, there is no formidable GOP star positioned to capitalize on voter discontent.
Andy McKenna, the Republican state party chairman, has worked to rebuild and re-fund the party, but it remains fractured at best and unable so far to stop its once-reliable red collar counties from bleeding blue.
For the governor's race, the Democrats have two well-known possibles in Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
In contrast, after Kirk, the Republicans have lesser-knowns like state Senators Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Matt Murphy (R-Palatine). Not to mention a right-wing fringe player in former Cicero town spokesman Dan Proft, to appeal to the always-reliable Alan Keyes branch of the party.
Assuming Burris doesn't run for Senate, Democratic contenders include Lisa Madigan again plus Merchandise Mart CEO Christopher Kennedy (son of Bobby, nephew of Ted) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
If you're President Obama, you can live without a Democrat winning the governor's race, but you can't abide the GOP taking over your old Senate seat. Any Republican seriously thinking of running for Senate will have to run against Obama.
Republicans are saying novenas for the conversion of Democrat Paul Vallas to come home and run for something -- anything. Governor or president of the Cook County Board?
Vallas, the former Chicago Public School's CEO who has gone off to New Orleans, is the guy who came closest to knocking off Rod Blagojevich in the 2002 primary -- were it not for the presence of Roland Burris in that race. The ironies abound, don't they?
It's like reality TV.