CHICAGO
10/01/2010 01:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Governor's Race Is Closing: Quinn Leads In New Poll, Brady's Lead Shrinks In Others

For the many analysts who have been predicting the imminent demise of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a handful of new polls suggest they might want to hold their horses.

A Chicago Tribune poll released Friday gives the governor a one-point advantage in his race against Republican state senator Bill Brady.

The Trib poll follows on the heels of a CNN/Time survey released on Wednesday which showed Quinn within two points of Brady, a result that left many observers incredulous. Another poll this week showed Quinn trailing by seven, a wider margin but still much closer than previous polling.

Before this week, Quinn was consistently down double-digits to the senator from Bloomington, a far-right conservative who won a surprise primary victory over establishment favorite Kirk Dillard in February.

Quinn's popularity has suffered in the state, as its massive budget crisis has forced him to propose a much-reviled tax increase and left him with a pile of unpaid bills.

So his recent climb in the polls has left pundits wondering how he could still be in the race. "It's amazing that Quinn's still in this given his continuing incredible unpopularity," wrote Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.

A number of factors seem to be at play. First, the Republican candidate is not a bastion of popularity himself. The Tribune poll shows Brady's favorability dropping sharply since Labor Day, and PPP shows that 44 percent of Illinoisans view him unfavorably, compared with 36 percent favoring him. The Quinn campaign's ads "introducing" voters to Brady may have had an impact here.

Second, it appears that many Democrats are coming home as Election Day approaches. In the PPP poll, the vast majority of undecideds were Democratic. While most of them don't like Quinn, it appears that they may be willing to vote for him as the race gets close. The Trib poll also shows Quinn gaining ground in Chicago and with black voters, two key areas of traditional Democratic strength.

Finally, there is the ever-present Scott Lee Cohen factor. The independent candidate for governor left the Democratic ticket, where he was running as lieutenant governor, after allegations of steroid abuse and domestic violence.

Recent polls that show Quinn in a close race all have one thing in common: they put Cohen's name on the ballot, where others didn't.

Why Cohen's presence on the ballot benefits Quinn so strongly is unclear: Cohen appears to be getting most of his support from Democrats and independents. It could be that those disgruntled voters cast a protest vote against Quinn; when presented only with Quinn and Brady, they side with the Republican, but when Cohen is on the list, they vote for him.

In any event, third-party candidates are clearly worth a careful watch in this race. If Quinn can continue to shore up his base, and make in-roads with the protest-vote supporters of Cohen and Green Rich Whitney, then this race could become very close indeed.