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Blago Defies Gravity

When Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took the oath of office in 2002 he was considered a "rising star" in the Democratic Party. Four years later you'd be hard pressed to find anyone still willing to describe Blagojevich that way, as even many Illinois Democrats have come to view his first term as a huge disappointment.

Blagojevich's tenure has been characterized by a rocky relationship with the Democrat-controlled state legislature (strained from the very beginning by his decision to remain in Chicago instead of moving to the Executive Mansion in Springfield). The tension has increased over the years, and his reputation for back-room wheeling and dealing has now gotten so bad it's been reported that members of his own party demand assurances from the Governor in writing, so little do they trust his word.

Blago's record on fiscal matters is also a problem. While most other states have been able to take advantage of a strong economy to erase budget deficits and even post surpluses in recent years, Illinois continues to languish. Earlier this week it was reported that Illinois ran a $3 billion deficit in 2005, and a recent balance sheet analysis showed the state with an overall negative net worth of $17.5 billion - both worst in the nation by far.

Finally, there is the issue of corruption. Blagojevich cast himself as a "reformer" the first time around, yet his administration has been dogged by multiple scandals and wide-ranging investigations. Earlier this month U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald notified the Illinois Attorney General he had identified "a number of credible witnesses" and was investigating "very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" in the Blagojevich administration.

Despite all of these issues, Blagojevich remains favored to win this November. He's been blessed by a weaker than expected challenge - thus far, anyway - from Republican Judy Baar Topinka, who appears to be having little success energizing a state Republican Party that remains divided and demoralized after a string of recent failures and embarrassments.

A wave of early attack ads has helped Blagojevich extend his lead over Topinka to double digits in the most recent poll by SurveyUSA. Though the race will likely tighten toward the end, unless Patrick Fitzgerald hands down a crippling set of indictments before Election Day, Blagojevich seems headed rather inauspiciously toward a second term.