By ANTHONY MAN
Simon swamps Martin:
Congress finally adjourned at 2 a.m., nine days before the 1990 election. The closing days were marked by long nights of work and little sleep, but U.S. Rep. Lynn Martin (R-16, Loves Park) hit the campaign trail immediately. She spent a total of six hours outdoors that day, including an appearance at the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival parade.
The combined effects hit the next day. With just over a week to go until Election Day, Martin awoke with a politician's nightmare: laryngitis. Even worse, her speaking problem developed the day before the second, and final, televised debate with her Democratic opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Makanda.
Laryngitis was just one more calamity in a generally lousy week. On the Sunday she returned to Illinois, a fresh round of news media public opinion polls showed Martin remaining far behind Simon in all regions. Even the Rockford Register-Star aimed a parting shot at the local congresswoman relinquishing her seat to run for the Senate. It endorsed Simon.
The closing days' events symbolized much of her 16-month campaign, during which almost everything that could go wrong for Martin did go wrong. Simon, by contrast, benefited from extraordinary good luck and a well-run campaign. It was not supposed to happen that way. A year ago, many Republicans, particularly those in Washington, D.C., predicted a neck-and-neck finish in Simon's bid for a second term. He defied them, winning all regions. He ran well in Martin's congressional district, including a victory in her home Winnebago County, won the Cook County suburbs and picked up the normally Republican collar counties around Chicago. Simon lost one collar county, McHenry, and tiny Edwards County in the southeastern part of the state.
Simon matched the impressive 65 percent of the vote run up by his senior colleague, U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon (D-Ill.), in 1986. Simon's margin looks even better considering that Dixon's opponent was then-state Rep. Judy Koehler (R-89, Henry), a candidate scoffed at by the political establishment.
The senator, obviously, has six more years of job security. Harder to measure are benefits that may come from growth in Simon's stature. Rather than being the man with the bow-tie who edged out an unpopular incumbent in 1984, Simon is now the man who won decisively against a candidate regarded highly by the Washington establishment. "He's no wimp in the world of Capitol Hill," said James D. Nowlan, professor of political science at Knox College in Galesburg.
"His political muscles bulge a little bit as a result of this race."
The newly muscular Simon has not staked out new territory for his second term. During the campaign, he spoke often about the importance of the kinds of things, such as education, that have marked his career, characterizing them not as big government spending efforts, but rather as ways to invest in and improve society. His immediate priority is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Simon wants to make at least the first two years of Pell grants for college students an entitlement, essentially meaning eligible students would be guaranteed the money regardless of appropriations. Simon will again push his National Literacy Act, which died in the closing hours of last year's session.
No one knows for certain, except perhaps the Simon family, what the implications are for the senator's presidential ambitions. He fared poorly in his 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination, and he said before and after the 1990 election that a candidacy requires a full-time candidate. Had he wanted to run again for president, Simon said he would not have sought reelection. During the 1990 campaign. Republicans insisted Simon was still infected with the presidential bug, and no less a figure than Dan Rather, the CBS television newsman, proclaimed on election night that the strong Simon win gave his presidential aspirations a big boost. What happened? How did the man who barely beat incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) in 1984 win so convincingly in 1990? In both elections, other top Republicans were
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doing well: President Reagan won Illinois in 1984, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Edgar won in 1990. The answer is simple. Simon and his people capitalized on every opportunity; Martin and her people rumbled much of the way.
Simon did the things all smart incumbents do. He raised lots of money, eventually outspending Martin by close to 2-to-l, and he declined to give her many opportunities for joint appearances. Raising $8.3 million (and spending $7.4 million) is not startling for a senator seeking reelection, particularly one thought to face a strong challenge. He excused away the financial advantage by noting that nationally the Republicans had made him a top target and planned to give Martin the maximum allowable amount of cash. For her part, Martin made Simon's goal seem more reasonable by publicizing her own $8 million goal and later bragging about how she had raised more money than any other Republican challenging a Democratic incumbent. (Martin dropped the boast late in the campaign, conceding that raising more than any other challenger did not mean much in a large and expensive state like Illinois.)
The best Martin could get from Simon was two debates. The senator noted the number was two more than were held during Martin's last House campaign. He also said two was plenty for presidential candidate George Bush when Martin was a cochair of his 1988 campaign. Despite some criticism, Simon refused to give any ground.
In a serendipitous bit of luck for Simon, the eventual timing of the first debate denied Martin the opportunity to get much exposure. It was initially scheduled for live broadcast statewide from WLS-Channel 7, Chicago, at 10:30 p.m., the same time slot in which a gubernatorial debate one week earlier got surprisingly high ratings. When negotiations on a federal budget deal forced Congress into overtime, Simon said he could not risk missing official votes for a campaign event. The debate was rescheduled for a Sunday afternoon opposite a football game. Martin complained, but it was a difficult case for her to make since she had been hammering Simon for missing votes so he could campaign for president in 1988. It turned out Martin was missing votes because of her Senate campaign, something Simon's camp ended up crowing over.
The congressional overtime worked to Simon's advantage in other ways. He had a big lead, so it did not hurt to be off the campaign trail. Martin was forced to choose between staying on the job or campaigning. The incumbent's committees also helped his reelection effort. The explosion of interest in international events in late 1989 and in 1990 made his Foreign Relations Committee membership an asset. When the Judiciary Committee had to act on a Supreme Court vacancy, Simon was there. And Simon, a former newspaper editor and owner, is skilled at using the media to spread his message.
Many Republicans, especially non-Illinoisans, considered Simon vulnerable because of his unsuccessful presidential campaign. They believed his poor showing was a repudiation of his style and his philosophy. Instead, the presidential effort apparently increased Simon's stature at home. Since the presidential effort he has enjoyed phenomenal recognition throughout the state. In an attempt to mute any vulnerability stemming from his poor Senate attendance during the presidential bid, Simon became ubiquitous on the town meeting circuit, something one of his early television ads proclaimed as evidence he was in touch with the people. Simon also patched the biggest wound of 1988 — soured relations with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Jackson, at the time a Chicagoan who was also running and wanted Simon to fold his campaign earlier than he did. In 1990, Simon cosponsored Jackson-favored legislation to make the District of Columbia a state, and Jackson endorsed Simon for reelection.
Perhaps the best example of the combination of skill and luck concerned Roger Ailes, the Republican media man. Democrats love to hate Ailes, blaming him for what they regard as the racist use of a black criminal, Willie Horton, in the television advertising campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. Simon got his experience firsthand when Ailes worked for Percy in 1984.
Martin's decision to hire Ailes provided an opportunity that Simon exploited with a vengeance. For months, he warned that the out-of-state adviser would come to Illinois and wage a smear campaign. Simon's main evidence was a grossly misleading spot Ailes had produced on Percy's behalf. Any time there was a hint of even legitimate criticism from the Martin campaign, the Simon camp dismissed it as just one more example of Ailes' dirty work. Martin said she had never run a negative campaign and appeared disinclined to run as down-and-dirty a campaign as she might have. Yet she was hobbled by the perception that she was running negatively. This allowed Simon forces to go forcefully on the offensive, attacking without being perceived as hitting Martin unfairly. With Simon's financial advantage, his messages dominated the airwaves.
Ailes himself validated the wisdom of the anti-Ailes strategy. He came to Chicago to help Martin prepare for the first debate and held a news conference at which he referred to Simon as "slimy" and "a weenie." John S. Jackson III, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said the incident' 'couldn't have been scripted any better if Paul Simon had planned it himself.''
Martin conceded it was "extraordinarily clever" to run against her by attacking Ailes. The Republican campaign offered little that was extraordinarily clever. The political scientists said Martin had to take a textbook approach to unseating an incumbent. As one of 22 Illinois members of Congress, unknown outside her district, name recognition was a priority. She also needed to give people an affirmative reason to vote for her and, finally, reasons not to vote for Simon.
These priorities got jumbled. Martin first became known to large numbers of voters when an appearance at the Rockford newspaper's editorial board generated a tidal wave of publicity. She supplied the term "rednecks" to complete another person's thought as the definition of people in southern Illinois who would never vote for a woman. Later, Martin's issues failed, largely because of events over which she had no control. President Bush's abandonment of his no-new-taxes pledge made it hard to sell her message that together she and Bush would hold the line in contrast to Simon. Martin considered herself closer to the views of average Illinoisans than Simon, whom she accused
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of reflecting California values. But when the Persian Gulf crisis hit, Simon generally supported Bush, a hawkish stand making him hard to attack.
Martin's other efforts fell short and, to some extent, even backfired. She tried to capitalize, for example, on news media reports that Simon helped a campaign contributor who had troubles negotiating a settlement with a savings and loan. Simon strongly disputed the suggestion of wrongdoing and accused the Martin-Ailes team of running a negative campaign. Political scientists Jackson and Nowlan said it proved impossible for someone who was new to the voters to successfully attack someone like Simon on ethics. Simon's 36-year career has been marked by a reputation for honesty and ethics. Martin went on the attack before making her own positive case to the voters. While the attack successfully raised Simon's negative ratings, Martin's went up even more.
Much of this fits into what Nowlan called the circularity of politics, a theory he has honed as a state legislator, lieutenant governor candidate, campaign manager for Percy in 1978, organizer of John B. Anderson's independent presidential campaign in 1980, and short-lived in-
dependent candidate for governor in 1986. He had some ties to the Martin camp, but said even before the election he likes Simon too. He said a candidate must first build credibility with the political elites: media people and political action committee treasurers, for example. Success in the early credibility stage helps raise early money. That supposedly helps create visibility , which increases credibility, which generates more money. If all is working well, that creates even more visibility, money, credibility and so on.
A "redneck" gaffe may be insignificant in the broad sense, but Nowlan suggested it may have hurt in the critical early stage of Martin's campaign. By the end, the circle had clearly turned into a descending spiral for Martin. She was low on money, so she could not afford television ads during crucial weeks late in September and most of October. That did not help her visibility and credibility, which translated into continuing low poll numbers. Fundraising became even tougher.
Her last-ditch strategy failed as well. Seizing on what was perceived as a nationwide anti-incumbent fervor, Martin began running as an outsider, endorsing term limitations for Congress. Noting Martin's 10 years in the House and tenure in the General Assembly, Simon ridiculed her position during then second debate: "Suddenly, not on the road to Damascus, but on the road to Election Day, 20 days before the election, she saw a great light and announced she was for term limitations." He also aired a TV ad accusing Martin of distorting her background.
Politicians and political scientists are reluctant to theorize about the impact, if any, of gender. Privately, some Democratic and Republican operatives said they believe Illinois voters are reluctant to elect a woman to high office. State Sen. Penny L. Severns (D-51, Decatur), a Simon supporter for almost two decades, said it is difficult to determine the role of gender, "Lynn Martin's flippant comments have played more negatively in part because of her gender. I think a woman in politics can come across more often as a smart aleck than a man in politics," Sevems said.
Martin was often credited with, or criticized for, being outspoken to the point of abrasiveness. Nowlan said she was handicapped because the quick wit that makes Martin engaging in person created an image that did not transfer well from the kind of street campaigning required in congressional races to the television campaign necessary in a state with 56,400 square miles and 11.5 million residents. Said Nowlan: "Maybe her personal style is too hot for television. Maybe it is too direct, too strong, and in a sense generates vibrations that turn people off."
Martin almost acknowledged as much near the end of the campaign, when she was afflicted with laryngitis on debate day, Martin joked about her plight before the showdown. "It'll be a soft-spoken Lynn Martin, whether she wants to be or not," she said. The voice problem did, in fact, change Martin's television persona. The candidate, who had come across as shrill to some and was labeled "dragon lady'' in one newspaper headline, was quieter and gentler. By then it was too late.
Anthony Man is Statehouse bureau chief for the four Lee Enterprises newspapers in Illinois. He covered the 1986 and 1990 U.S. Senate races and wrote about the 1984 Simon-Percy contest as political reporter at the Decatur Herald & Review.
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