Last week, Chicago Sun-Times' Washington political columnist Lynn Sweet gushed over ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush's strength in Illinois among the establishment, writing that Bush is "seizing the Illinois GOP establishment's big donor momentum."
Sweet claimed that Bush is on his way to vacuum up "at least $3 million for his new Right to Rise super PAC between events in Chicago and Lake Forest on Feb. 18..."
Whatever "momentum" Bush has among the moneyed crowd is offset by the commanding lead Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has among Illinois Republican primary voters, according to a new poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider.
A survey of 971 likely GOP primary voters on Thursday, February 5, reveals that Walker is grabbing 38.4% of the Illinois GOP presidential primary vote while Bush is trailing nearly 20 points behind Wisconsin's chief executive at 19.26%
Meanwhile, ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is nearly tied with Bush, grabbing 17.0% of GOP voters.
Bringing up the rear in distant fourth and fifth place showings are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and neighboring Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with 7.6% and 5.6% respectively.
In fact, Walker, who grabbed a narrow lead, 16%, in a recent Iowa poll after a rousing speech at a conservative summit sponsored by conservative U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in January, was in Peoria last Friday sounding like a presidential candidate.
"On Friday night I was at Eureka College to help celebrate President Ronald W. Reagan's birthday (104th)," State Senator Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) posted on his Facebook page. "The speaker at the celebration event was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. [...] I get the strong sense that Gov. Walker is gearing up to run for President in the 2016 election."
LaHood asked his followers to sound off on a Walker run.
"What are your thoughts on his chances of winning the Republican nomination?," LaHood asked.
Surprisingly, the reaction was mixed.
"I am all in for Scott Walker for President. What he did for Wisconsin he can do for our country. How fitting that he was speaking for Ronald Reagan's birthday. I think he's a Ronald Reagan type candidate who can save the USA!!," wrote Sheri Campbell Diekman.
"He has no chance, but I hope he's the nominee because Hillary will wipe the floor with him. Go ahead Repubs, run him," posted Barb Beitz.
We Ask America's Gregg Durham credits Walker's Illinois standing to "name recognition".
"Scott Walker's 34% mark is most likely attributable to name recognition from his very public battles in Wisconsin and recall election effort," Durham said.
Undoubtedly, Walker's political battles have drawn attention from his Illinois neighbors.
But if an early poll of GOP presidential contenders were only a game of "name recognition", then the son and brother of former presidents and a "moderate" ex-governor would be crushing the other candidates in "moderate" Illinois, no?
The Bush brand may have momentum fueled by the moneyed elite, but rank-and-file GOP voters, no strangers to the Bush family, have yet to get the Illinois establishment's memo.
Meanwhile, the new poll shows that U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is drawing thumbs up from 59% of GOP voters for his job performance while 20% disapprove and 21% are unsure.
Durham is encouraged by Kirk's latest numbers.
"Considering the electorate's general view of Congress, Sen. Kirk has a high approval rating of nearly 60 percent," said Durham. "His ratings in suburban Cook soar to nearly 67% in suburban Cook where he's best known."
Still, there are some clouds hovering over Kirk's GOP base.
In Downstate, he draws just 53.6% job approval from GOP voters while 17.8% disapprove and a hefty 28.4% are unsure. In fact, in the City of Chicago, Kirk has a slightly better job approval number, registering 55.2%.
Interestingly, Kirk, who is pro-choice, is doing slightly worse with Republican women than with men, who approve of his job performance 58.7% to 59.6%. Kirk's disapproval numbers among women fare better than among men, 15.6% to 25.0%, but 25.3% of GOP women are "unsure" about his job performance compared to just 15.3% of men.
Kirk has a solid base among GOP voters, but describing it as enthusiastic may be an adjective too far.
David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.