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Poll: Cullerton Holds Slight Edge in Race to Succeed Duckworth

06/03/2015 12:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2016

The Democratic contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) has already drawn two announced candidates about whom voters are overwhelmingly undecided, a new survey says.

A May 19 Ogden & Fry poll of 575 likely 2016 Democratic primary voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer finds that 64.7% are undecided between State Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park), who announced his candidacy a few weeks ago, and businessman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is taking a second run at the seat after being thumped by Duckworth in 2012.

For voters with an opinion, Cullerton leads 18.1% to 17.2%.

Essentially, a tie.

The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.17%.

Ogden & Fry pollster Tom Fry says the huge undecided number makes the race "wide open."

"State Senator Tom Cullerton and lawyer/engineer Raja Krisnamoorthi are in a statistical dead heat for Democratic nominees for Illinois' 8th Congressional District," Swiss wrote in the polling memo. "With nearly 3 out of every 5 Democratic primary voters undecided, the race is wide open."

Duckworth, who is seeking to challenge U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) for reelection in 2016, has offered no endorsement to either candidate.

But Krishnamoorthi, who lost a 2010 Democratic primary race for Illinois Comptroller, has grabbed two endorsements from among Cullerton's Democratic senate colleagues.

State Senators Dave Koehler of Peoria and Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge are backing Krishnamoorthi's bid.

Krishnamoorthi, who has already raised $400,000, has also won the backing of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago) and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago)

Additionally, Krishnamoorthi, who announced on April 1, has assembled an impressive campaign team.

Eric Adelstein will handle paid media; John Kupper of Kupper Communications will guide press and policy; Mission Control will craft the campaign's direct mail; and GBA Strategies will manage Krishnamoorthi's polling. GBA's Illinois clients have included: U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (IL-17) and Robin Kelly (IL-2) and Treasurer Mike Frerichs.

Still, despite the early launch of a well-organized, well-financed operation, a top source says that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is officially neutral in the race, fears that if Krishnamoorthi becomes the Democratic nominee, they'll lose Duckworth's seat to a Republican in 2016.

In the 2012 8th C.D. Democratic primary, Duckworth smoked Krishnamoorthi 17,097 to 8,736 in a contest where he spent $1.2 million. In the 2010 Democratic primary for comptroller, Krishnamoorthi lost narrowly to then-State Rep. David Miller, 38,4796 to 39,3405. He spent $1.16 million on that race to Miller's $737,000.

Despite lavishing vast sums on his campaigns, Krishnamoorthi's vote getting ability has only declined. Still, the DCCC is prepared, if need be, to issue a statement praising Krishnamoorthi as an "excellent" candidate.

"Excellent." Yeah, right.

Insiders expect that the contest will attract about 25,000 voters, comparable to the 23,000 in 2012.

Cullerton, who is expected to roll out endorsements from nearly a dozen state House lawmakers, a dozen Senate colleagues, and a half-dozen mayors, has also assembled a full campaign team.

Snyder-Pickerill will handle paid media; the Paladin Political Group will draft direct mail; Kelly Dietrich will manage fundraising; and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research will poll on the race. Cullerton used Anzalone for his 2012 upset win against GOP State Senator Carole Pankau. Cullerton has tapped Jeremy Custer, who piloted his successful state senate campaign, to lead his congressional bid.

A wild card is State Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin) who is also mulling a bid for Duckworth's seat.

In 2012, Noland endorsed Krishnamoorthi, and it was in Noland's district where he performed best, running essentially 50-50 against Duckworth in those precincts while losing 70-30 in the rest of the congressional district.

"If Noland endorses you, he works precincts for you," a Democratic insider said.

He is expected to decide by July.

Meanwhile, a rumor had surfaced several weeks ago that State Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington) was considering a campaign for Duckworth's seat on the GOP ticket, but on Wednesday, he flatly denied it.

"I'm absolutely not running for Congress," McSweeney recently told The Illinois Observer.

In the meantime, on the Democratic side, both Cullerton and Krishnamoorthi face a hell of a lot of work to grab the attention of a small pool of voters who will decide their fate.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.