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Showtime in Illinois

Tomorrow is primary day in Illinois and there are three races to watch. The first, and biggest, is the GOP primary for Governor which has essentially boiled down to a two person race between moderate Judy Baar Topinka and conservative Jim Oberweis.

Topinka is the only Republican currently holding statewide office (Treasurer) which demonstrates her appeal in a state where the GOP has basically been reduced to a smoldering heap of ruins. However, Topinka's longevity also has a downside; she has ties to the lowly-regarded Illinois political establishment and she served with former Governor George Ryan - who sits awaiting a jury verdict on his corruption trial at this very minute.

Oberweis, the multimillionaire dairy magnate and financial services manager, is a two-time loser for the GOP Senate nomination, most recently in 2004 when he made a name for himself - in a bad way - with an over the top anti-immigrant TV spot that had him flying in a helicopter over Soldier Field.

The last poll taken in the race showed Topinka leading Oberweis by 11 points (36 to 25), though that represented a loss of ground for Topinka from the month prior. Since that time, Topinka skipped the final debate held last week while calling her three male opponents "morons" (she later apologized) and has been battered by a sharp Oberweis ad that has footage of Topinka doing a polka with the now-disgraced George Ryan.

However, Oberweis has problems of his own, which include an alternative conservative candidate pulling double digits (State Senator Bill Brady, 15%) and a penchant for making himself look silly by daring his opponents to draw straws for the nomination and passing out coupons for free ice cream wherever he goes. Frankly, Oberweis would be more of a threat if he wasn't such a bad candidate. Be that as it may, Oberweis may have a good enough organization to make this one close.

In the eighth Congressional district, another Republican primary pits six candidates against each other for the privilege of taking on Melissa Bean in November. Bean is the woman who rather unceremoniously relieved Phil Crane of his seat two years ago, winning 52% of the vote in a heavily Republican district at the same time President Bush was thumping John Kerry by 16 points. The two leading contenders in the race are Dave McSweeney and Kathy Salvi, neither of whom have prior legislative experience. McSweeney has spent close to $2 million on the race already and, according to Lynn Sweet, the race has turned "nuclear negative" in the final days.

Last but by no means least, in Illinois 6 Democrats are squaring off in a bid to challenge for Henry Hyde's seat which comes open this year with the Congressman's retirement. The race is a litmus test for Rahm Emanuel's "fighting Dem" strategy, pitting Iraq war veteran and double leg amputee L. Tammy Duckworth against Christine Cegelis. Cegelis scored 44% of the vote against Hyde in 2004 and seemed in perfect position to capture the seat until Emanuel intervened, recruiting Duckworth - a political novice who does not live in the district - and pouring tons of money into the race on her behalf. This race should be close and will depend on whether voters take offense at the party elite's meddling or whether they take to the patriotic life story of Duckworth. We'll know the answer to that question tomorrow night.