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September 26, 2008

Blago Could Hurt Dems

Sources tell CBS News in Chicago that federal agents have enough evidence to indict Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on fraud charges. That could cost Democrats at the ballot box in November.

The party has high hopes for the Land of Lincoln. With two Republicans retiring and at least one more incumbent facing a stiff challenge, Illinois is a state in which the GOP is on defense. Add in home-state Senator Barack Obama atop the ticket, and Democrats could make a serious move in the state.

But Blagojevich is raining on his party's parade. The governor is deeply unpopular in his state; virtually every poll we've seen of competitive House districts in Illinois shows Blagojevich with favorable ratings close to, if not below, 20%. That could prove a big drag on at least one Democrat come November.

In the Eleventh District, a mix of suburbs of Chicago and more rural down-state areas, State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson was seen as one of the Democratic challengers most likely to win in November. She raised a lot of money, had a good profile in a changing district and was running a strong campaign. Her Republican opponent even dropped out of the race after winning his primary.

Republicans turned to wealthy businessman Marty Ozinga, who has proven a surprisingly strong candidate. And with Halvorson as the number two Democrat in the state senate, Ozinga has pursued a strategy of tying her to the governor. Halvorson remains the front-runner, but if Ozinga surprises observers and holds the seat for Republicans, Democrats will have no one but Blagojevich to blame.

It would hardly be unique if Blagojevich were indicted. His predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was convicted on federal corruption charges, and he's currently cooling his heels in prison. The person who sent Ryan to jail, and who could indict Blagojevich, knows something about politics; the responsibility would fall to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, of Plame investigation fame.