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  A Front-Runner Fades and Some See Race Playing a Role [IL Gov 1998]
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ContributorCOSDem 
Last EditedCOSDem  Jan 10, 2009 09:19pm
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News DateSunday, January 11, 2009 03:00:00 AM UTC0:0
Description The folding chairs were full in the New Greater Mount Eagle Church basement, and Roland Burris, candidate for governor of Illinois, was churning up the South Side crowd.

''I don't have any money,'' Mr. Burris said from the podium. ''I don't have any TV commercials. But I do have something they don't have. I've got you.''

That, at least, was how it appeared two weeks before the hotly contested Democratic primary for Illinois governor on Tuesday. In the era of big-budget campaigns and television commercial blizzards, Mr. Burris, the only African-American in the race, seemed to be pulling off the unfathomable. He had a double-digit lead over his three main challengers and strong support from blacks and whites across the state, all without the backing of prominent state Democratic Party leaders or deep-pocket contributors. He could not afford a single television commercial.

But in the maelstrom of Illinois politics, things never stay settled for long. A poll published on Sunday in The Chicago Tribune showed that Mr. Burris's lead had nearly evaporated, as money and endorsements flow to his white rivals. At the same time, in sometimes subtle ways, the campaign was revealing the racial sensitivities of a state where questions of a candidate's viability are difficult to separate from those of race.

The stakes are high. Illinois Democrats hope to snatch back the governorship of the sixth-most-populous state, a trophy they have not held in 20 years. Their chances seemed to improve last summer when Jim Edgar, the well-liked two-term Governor, announced he would not seek re-election. But they face a tough battle against the likely Republican nominee, Secretary of State George Ryan.
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