We've got two recent polls to discuss, both of which have good news for Congressman Mark Kirk, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race.
First up is a new poll by Rasmussen, showing Kirk crushing his nearest competitor, businessman Patrick Hughes, 53% to 18%. That's a spread of 35 points, just days before the Illinois primary on February 2nd. "Other" gets 12% of the vote, with only 18% undecided. If one takes the Hughes vote, and assumes that everyone voting for "other" switches to Hughes, and ALL the undecided break for Hughes (which obviously isn't going to happen), even if you add all that up, as of today, Kirk still wins. Nice.
And, while Hughes has been painting himself as the heir to the conservative movement in Illinois, according to Rasmussen, "51% of conservative Republicans who plan to vote on Tuesday support Kirk versus 20% who are for Hughes."
Interestingly, if we look at the favorable/unfavorable ratio for both Kirk and Hughes, we see:
Kirk 58% / 22% [positive difference of +36%]
Hughes 34% / 21% [positive difference of +13%]
What does that tell us? Well, two things. First, that despite the rhetoric coming from the Hughes campaign and certain elements of the Republican party in Illinois (just don't call them "fringe," they get very testy), Kirk is an enormously popular politician, despite the fact that some of his policies and votes are not favored by some Republicans. Whatever supposedly troubles them about Kirk, it's not a deal-breaker for most, and the majority is going for Kirk, regardless. And Hughes' attempt to paint Kirk as a horned demon ("RINO, RINO!!!") have miserably failed.
Second, considering that Hughes' unfavorables are within a point of Kirk's, even though Hughes is fresh on the political scene and has no record, and little name recognition, it tells us that to know Hughes is to not necessarily love him; thus, it seems likely that his personality and completely negative campaigning are turning a substantial number of voters away. In a spot like Hughes is in, you can't afford to be pissing off 21% of the likely voters.
Advantage: All Kirk.
The other poll is from Public Policy Polling (PPP), which surveyed 1,062 Illinois voters from January 22nd to 25th. The PPP poll showed that Kirk is behind Democratic frontrunner Alexi Giannoulias, 42-34. Kirk is leading over the other two main Democrats, 37-36 over David Hoffman and 38-36 over Cheryle Jackson.
While at first glance this might seem bad news for Kirk and portend a losing GOP election in November if Kirk is the candidate, we need to first consider that while Alexi and David Hoffman have been spending enormous sums of money on political advertising in the past two months, Kirk has spent very little. He has yet to go on the attack against Alexi, or indeed, even begin to spend down his multi-million dollar war chest. Yet, he's still within striking distance.
Probably more important, though, to those that still doggedly argue that only a hard-core conservative can win the November fight, we see by the PPP poll that:
The reason for Giannoulias' ascent is that where he was winning 60% of the Democratic vote last spring he's now at 72%. As his party's voters have become more familiar with him over the course of the primary campaign his support from them has increased. Right now he leads 72-7 with Dems while Kirk is up 76-5 with Republicans. Kirk also has a 33-27 lead with independents. It's close to impossible for a GOP candidate to win statewide in Illinois without at least a double digit lead among independents and a double digit level of crossover support, and right now Kirk isn't there. (emphasis mine)
It's true that Kirk needs to win over independents and some crossover Democrats, and he has some work to do in order to get those votes. But, the main points are that he will have the time, he will have the money, and most importantly, has the ability to connect with such voters and win those votes. As noted by PPP, you can't win in Illinois with only the Republican vote, much less only the conservative vote. The fire-breathing right-wingers like Pat simply have no plan, and no chance, to attract such voters in November.
You won't get Illinois independents to vote for you by telling them that all you as a candidate care about is that you are the incarnation of the Republican platform. Either our ultra-conservative friends don't realize this, or they don't care, and think that a win in February is all that matters. It's just the beginning folks. The real prize is in November, and after next Tuesday, the real work for all Republicans starts.