Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


In 2002, it was clear that attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan was one ornery character. He was mad. He was mad because his last name was Ryan, he was mad because George Ryan was undermining him, he was mad because a hairdo with an unpronounceable name was leading him in the polls, and he was mad because his primary opponents were so mean. But the campaign was not marked by an particularly unique nastiness.

Not so this time around. It is explicitly evident that State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and incumbent Governor Rod Blagojevich do not like each other. There is a personal distaste going on here. Topinka seems especially bitter because after practically forcing the party to beg her to run, and being promised up and down that she would be the prohibitive favorite to defeat an incumbent who, despite having more money than the Pope, was wildly unpopular in Illinois. What she found instead was a population not necessarily willing to vote for her simply because Blagojevich seemed dirty. Not only that, but the arguments that the Republicans were banking on working so well — namely, Blagojevich is corrupt, just as corrupt as George Ryan, the cat that got the GOP in all the hot water in the first place — doesn't resonate. Especially when Blagojevich's campaign keeps conflating the two together. (Admittedly, nominating a woman who has publicly polka-danced with the most hated figure in Illinois politics may have, in retrospect, been a bad idea).

Blagojevich, as predicted, has completely blunted the potency of the Republican attacks by dragging Topinka down with him.

Negative ad for a negative ad, we all go down.

Ad #1: "The Record"

In a scathing ad of the best sort — one in which your opponent hangs himself, sparing you the nasty rope-burns that come with a hanging — Topinka's campaign tries put focus back on the highly-disputed $1,500 check Blagojevich accepted from a family friend in the name of one of his children, a week or so after the Governor gave his friend's wife a state job. Blagojevich gets blind-sided by a clearly angry reporter regarding the check and is at a loss for words, looking like a bad liar. For a politician to look like a bad liar is like a magician letting the cards fall out of his sleeves.

Ad #2: "Blagojevich Responds"

Let me tell you why this ad is brilliant: because it's the Governor, in his own voice — which gives it weight, even if people don't like him — pointing out exactly why the Topinka campaign is, well pointless. She's not new blood. She's "more of the same." Anybody else, sure, maybe they could make the criticisms of Blagojevich that Topinka is making. But not Topinka herself. She was part of the ruling cadre with George Ryan. What makes you think she'll do anything different? Zing.

Ad #3: "Business as Usual"

Let me tell you why this is NOT a great ad. Because after slinging all that stuff at Blagojevich and outlining exactly how he betrayed the voters of Illinois — by not ending "business as usual" — she compares him to George Ryan. George Ryan, whom Judy Baar Topinka publicly polkaed with, campaigned with, called a good and decent man, etcetera etcetera. See where I'm going with this? It rings a little hollow when Topinka says something like, "Didn't our last governor go to jail for this?" Because the response is, "And weren't you BFFs?"

Ad #4: "Check"


Ad #5: "Not the Experience We Need"

Here's the deal. Topinka's campaign was fatally flawed from the beginning. Republicans were smitten with her suburban Cook County appeal, her potential cross-party votes, and the fact that she was a woman (Blagojevich's favorables are highest amongst women). In the end though, she couldn't appeal to anything that may have drawn a contrast with Blagojevich because she had a record, and her record was tied to George Ryan, the villain in this farce. She when she says, "I have experience," her opponent will always say, "Yeah, and we remember the deficits. And we saw your boss go to the hoosegow."

GB store


message / October 4, 2006 2:03 PM

Sick of both of these jokers?

clomp / October 4, 2006 2:57 PM

great article. it like the fact that you included the ads. doing so provides a good contrast between the approach of both candidates.
personally i think there is no way topinka is going to win.

Marc / October 5, 2006 11:38 AM

I'm tired of seeing the negative ads. I'd like to see some ads that actually articulate what either of them are planning on doing if (re)elected.

After all, they're politicians. As a general rule there will be some sort of corruption. I guess I can live with that if you can still be fair and effective.

michelle / October 6, 2006 8:49 AM

I like how you used "BFFs". I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who loves that phrase.


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15