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Quinn-Brady race may be decided in collar counties

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Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bill Brady have spent little time campaigning in the Chicago suburbs that some politicians think will decide the race.

SPRINGFIELD -- Chicago's suburbs may well be where the governor's race is won, but you'd never know that based on the recent sightings of Gov. Quinn and his GOP rival, state Sen. Bill Brady.

Since the start of October, the Bloomington lawmaker has been in the vote-rich region surrounding the city only twice, while Quinn ventured into suburbia on just four days so far this month, according to their public schedules.

Both major-party candidates have saturated the television airwaves with campaign ads that reach suburban living rooms, and Brady on Saturday attended events in Downer's Grove and Addision. Both he and Quinn will meet tonight for a debate at Elmhurst College.

But allies of both gubernatorial hopefuls question why they aren't taking the extra step and making a daily habit out of trolling collar-county Metra stops for votes.

More than 40 percent of the state's electorate resides in a region that is neither candidate's natural home turf, and the suburban vote was a major factor in two out of the three last gubernatorial elections.

"The collar counties will decide who the next governor is going to be," said state Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party.

Brady held a 35 percent to 29 percent lead over Quinn in suburban Chicago in a poll of 1,000 registered voters last week by Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. That survey, which gave Brady a nearly 9 percentage-point lead statewide, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The suburbs once were reliably Republican, but Democrat Rod Blagojevich beat his GOP rival, Judy Baar Topinka, in the region in 2006. President Obama, who is making a big push on behalf of Quinn, ran the table in the suburbs against Republican John McCain in 2008.

"Brady will have to outperform what any Republican statewide figure has done in the last 12 years, and that is win places like Lake County and keep the ... loss out of Cook County at a manageable level," said Brady supporter Greg Baise, head of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.

For Brady, a victory would make him the first Republican in more than a decade to win the governorship, after the GOP controlled the Executive Mansion for 26 straight years.

For Quinn, a win Nov. 2 would make Illinois history because no other Illinois lieutenant governor who ascended to the governorship in midterm went on to win an election to become the state's chief executive.

The last one to try was Democrat Samuel Shapiro, who took over when former Gov. Otto Kerner resigned to take a federal judgeship in 1968.

Polls have shifted momentum from Brady to Quinn and back again to Brady, while three other candidates -- Green Party hopeful Rich Whitney, Independent Scott Lee Cohen and Libertarian Lex Green -- stand as wild cards who could act as spoilers for either major-party candidate.

Brady, with a two-to-one lead over Quinn Downstate in the SIU poll, is likely to clean Quinn's clock south of Interstate 80. Quinn, with more than a three-to-one lead over Brady in Chicago, should do the same in the city, though his strength among African-American voters has been no match for Blagojevich's during his two runs for governor.

Those geographical advantages leave the suburbs as the primary battleground for Brady and Quinn. But instead of working that region hard, both candidates have focused on securing resounding turnouts within their bases.

Brady has spent virtually the entire month outside the city and suburbs, spreading an anti-Quinn message to towns as small as Vienna in the state's farthest southern point, home to about 1,200 people.

"Gov Quinn just doesn't get it. He thinks the solution to prosperity is to tax, borrow and spend, and we're not going to let him get by with it, are we- " Brady told about 150 Tea Party members in Springfield -- a group Brady says statewide could add at least 10 percentage points to his overall vote totals.

Quinn has been trying to rev up union and African-American voters, two of the Democratic core constituencies. Quinn has stayed largely in Chicago, rarely venturing into suburbia. Last week, the governor went on a midweek fly-around with labor leaders that began in Chicago and hit six Downstate stops.

Before about 100 union supporters in Decatur, Quinn went on the attack against Brady, recounting a recent church rally on Chicago's West Side where the governor said worshippers were trying to get a handle on the depth of what Quinn described as Brady's pro-business, anti-working-class leanings.

"They said who is this guy- He wants to cut the minimum wage, abolish health insurance for children, throw 26,000 people out of work. They said, well, we think we should pray for Brady but vote for Gov. Quinn," the governor said, drawing applause and chants of "Yes sir!" from the partisan crowd.

With slightly more than two weeks until the election, some of Quinn's allies still regard this as a race for the hearts and minds of suburban voters. Link would like the governor to spend more time in the collar counties, noting he hasn't been in Lake County since before Labor Day.

"I think he can run very good in the collar counties," Link said of Quinn. "Obviously, he has to work them a little better. His message has to get out here. He himself has to get out here more."

Contributing: Abdon Pallasch