Topinka v. Keyes: Can Judy do better than Alan?

Can Judy Baar Topinka match Alan Keyes’ Election Day performance? Circumstances make this a serious question. There’s a good chance Topinka might set a new low for an Illinois governor’s race just like Keyes did for a U.S. Senate campaign in a presidential year.

Topinka walks onto the stage at a time when national opinion polls are showing the consequences of Republicans failing to heed good advice. Instead of hiring private sector communications professionals, President George W. Bush and Speaker Dennis Hastert are content employing staff that is incapable of selling good policy ideas to the public.

It’s no small feat to take a superior product and have it outsold by an inferior one. The Apple Computer marketing staff has been able to accomplish this by losing out to Microsoft since the 1980s.

But Topinka has her own set of challenges that are quite independent of any incompetency being demonstrated by Republicans in Washington, D.C.

By one important measure, 2006 might look a whole lot like 2004. Alan Keyes was the nightmare candidate for Illinois conservatives. Judy Topinka has the potential to be a nightmare for the entire ILGOP.

Like a lot of conservatives, my first reaction to the Keyes candidacy back in 2004 was enthusiasm. After attending a meeting with only Keyes, Dan Proft, Bill Pascoe, Jack Roeser, and Joe Wiegand, however, I was aghast. Minutes into it, Keyes’ irrational and immature behavior proved to me that the election was over. To say the least the Illinois Republican State Central Committee had no clue how to properly vet a candidate.

It’s easy to see Topinka primary voters experiencing something similar as this general election campaign plays out.

Unlike Keyes, Topinka doesn’t have to face “rising star blah blah blah” Barack Obama.  Unfortunately for Topinka, though, Blagojevich has hired Obama’s consultant – a man who succeeded in hiding Obama’s superstar vapidity.

Democrat campaign consultant David Axelrod has the skill to make the Governor look like he’s both moderate on policy and strong on reform. If Rod makes the decision to listen to and obey Axelrod, this campaign will be as good as over.

Reminiscent of Dick Morris having President Bill Clinton run early ads in 1996, Axelrod & Company have already begun to define Judy. “What’s she thinking?” is the first question they pose, and before long, Ron Gidwitz and Jim Oberweis’ treatment of Topinka will look tame by comparison.

Another problem is that like Alan Keyes, Judy Topinka’s shtick doesn’t work on the big stage – and the stages don’t get much bigger than running for Governor of the nation’s fifth largest state.

Bring in Keyes to address a pro-life meeting and you might never hear a better speech about why the unborn should be protected. Run Topinka for a lower-rung office and she can run cute TV ads about how she shops at second-hand stores. Run either for U.S. Senate or Governor and other issues come into play and you quickly discover neither knows when to shut up.

Topinka probably doesn’t have any idea just how effective Blagojevich’s reelection campaign will be. All her pretending to be a fiscal conservative or a government reformer won’t work.

Team Topinka’s only hope is that U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald gets to Rod before he gets to Judy. And after losing, be assured that Team Topinka won’t look in the mirror to find blame. It’ll be the fault of President Bush, the Republican Congress, and of course Illinois conservatives.

Still another reason Topinka will struggle to avoid setting a new low is that by November many voters who support limited government and traditional values will realize that its okay not to have a candidate in the race.

The good news is that there will be another important issue on the ballot, so concerned citizens won’t lack for a good reason to go to the polls. A simple question will be on the table: should we define marriage between one man and one woman – or – should we allow same sex marriage, polygamy, and whatever other combinations the gender-confused community can come up with?

The answer to that question is more important than whether we should have a Republican or Democrat governor pursuing the wrong policies.

November 8, 2006 (the day after the election) will just be another day for grassroots conservatives working to build a viable, principled Illinois Republican Party. That construction project is already underway through the marriage amendment petition process. Too bad the current overseers of the party apparatus aren’t involved. Their gaze remains fixed on Topinka.