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posted: 6/29/2010 12:01 AM

It's more about math than politics

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In the 2006 Illinois gubernatorial election, Democratic incumbent Rod Blagojevich easily defeated state Republican Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney. Blagojevich's victory over Topinka was by an impressive 367,537 votes.

Key to the governor's re-election were the staggering support he received in his hometown of Chicago (77.4 percent/404,725 vote margin) and his 100,000-plus margin over Topinka in suburban Cook County. Topinka did beat him in the five collar counties and in downstate Illinois, but these wins merely dented Blagojevich's Cook County vote margins. The question now is will the 2010 governor's contest be a 2006 political rerun, albeit with different players?

Political campaigns encompass all of the social sciences, most of the humanities and at times simple fiction. But on election night, all of the above is irrelevant because it all boils down to basic math - who counts the most votes. Leaving out the array of economic issues, court cases, personalities and the impact of two close gubernatorial primaries, the mathematical problem is this: Can Republican gubernatorial nominee and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington find a vote formula to outcount Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. No matter what the polls say now, it will not be easy. Here's why.

In his GOP primary eyelash win, Brady received less than 10 percent of the vote in Chicago, suburban Cook and the five collars. Putting it bluntly, Brady was a non-player in the most populated part of the state.

In my view the ethical chaos and political dynamite of the ongoing Blagojevich federal trial, the state's ongoing financial disaster, and the ongoing "offbeat to nonbeat" of Quinn's mystery election campaign does give Brady a real shot at the mansion in November. However, even with all that going for him Brady will have to overcome the geopolitics of 21st century Illinois elections.

The key word this fall most likely will be turnout.

In 2006 Chicago cast 18.7 percent of the statewide vote while suburban Cook counted for another 19 percent. A strong Democratic turnout for the Cook County Board president's race or even the possibility of a highly publicized three-way fight for Cook County assessor could drive the county's turnout above the 1,350,915 votes in 2006. Assuming Quinn eventually starts campaigning and begins spelling out Brady's record on controversial social issues, it is highly likely that Quinn's chances for victory will improve greatly.

Clearly there is nothing Brady can do to stifle Cook County's turnout. Brady's best hope in Cook County is to keep social issues off the political table and concentrate on his high cards - Democratic economics and Blagojevich.

In raw numbers if Quinn comes out of Cook County with 500,000-plus votes over Brady - same as in 2006 - the geopolitics of Illinois will become a heavy burden for the downstate Republican. To be sure, Brady as a downstater would have a far better chance to surpass Topinka's 2006 performance in closing the Cook County gap. Still, it would be a very steep climb.

The variables in the Quinn-Brady race are almost endless. Not mentioned in this column are such issues as the African-American turnout in Cook County, the potential impact of a Scott Lee Cohen gubernatorial candidacy (especially with angry lukewarm Democrats and independents), the ability in the post-Blagojevich era for campaign fundraising by both major candidates and, yes, the outcome of the Blagojevich trial.

Still looming above all these issues is the math. Unless there is GOP surge in Chicago or a Republican rebound in north and west areas of suburban Cook, the odds are great that Quinn will leave Cook with an enormous lead and a powerful leg up on winning the governorship. Perhaps the ultimate question is whether Quinn will have enough oomph elsewhere in Illinois to take advantage of his party's favorable geopolitical edge and eke out a victory in an admittedly bad Democratic year.

• Paul Green is Director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.