After a mild campaign season in central Illinois, it’s time for me to make predictions in Tuesday’s primary. It’s a tradition of the column that predates me, and I stress, as usual, that these are not endorsements.

After a mild campaign season in central Illinois, it’s time for me to make predictions in Tuesday’s primary. It’s a tradition of the column that predates me, and I stress, as usual, that these are not endorsements.

I’ve thought that the very conservative RICK SANTORUM could hatch a surprise for president — in the popular vote if not the delegate count. Conservatives have upended more moderate candidates in Illinois GOP primaries in the past — Santorum friend AL SALVI over BOB KUSTRA for U.S. Senate in  1996; and PETER FITZGERALD over LOLETA DIDRICKSON for U.S. Senate in 1998, for example. Salvi went on to lose to U.S. Sen. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill., but Fitzgerald won a six-year term.

I’m not convinced there won’t be a Santorum surge, but with the backing of some Illinois heavy hitters and what seems like the best organization, I think MITT ROMNEY’s electability factor will win the day for him in Illinois. NEWT GINGRICH and RON PAUL? Yeah, they’re still on the ballot. But I don’t think U.S. Rep. TIM JOHNSON’s endorsement of his friend Paul last week will carry the day.

It’s been an interesting race for the Democratic nomination in the new 96th House District, which includes part of Springfield. SUE SCHERER of Decatur, who would move a short distance into the district if she wins, has talked of going door-to-door a lot, but has mostly hidden from the press behind a wall of money provided by House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, who sent out a series of mailers, some with inaccurate information, to demonize, in particular, one of her primary opponents, Springfield Ward 5 Ald. SAM CAHNMAN. She has also conveniently used her first-grade students to shield herself from daytime calls or a Springfield morning forum that would have had her face off with Cahnman and the third candidate in the race, WINSTON TAYLOR of Springfield.

Scherer will win this primary, I predict. Then, if she’s not teaching summer school, people in Springfield may get to know her by November.

On the GOP side in the new 96th, Rochester businessman DENNIS SHACKELFORD, who owns Judy’s Hallmark Shops in Springfield, is taking on JARED PERRY, a veteran of the Iraq war from Decatur. Even without the secret weapon Shackelford’s got (his wife, JUDY, is one of former Mayor OSSIE LANGFELDER’s 13 children), I think he’s got this one. He might even make it a race in November in what was cut to be a Democratic district, if he can get over that campaign shyness.

Disarray in the Sangamon County GOP hasn’t helped county Republicans in their quest to keep a local seat in the Illinois Senate now that longtime Sen. LARRY BOMKE, R-Springfield, is not seeking another term. Springfield Park Board member GRAY NOLL decided late in the contest to bring up some issues that dog state Sen. SAM McCANN, R-Carlinville, his opponent in the new 50th Senate District GOP primary. But McCann, who really should figure out a way to pay his business taxes on time before talking so much about job creators, wins.
Johnson, the GOP congressman from Urbana, also win’s an easy renomination.

The Democratic side in the new 13th Congressional District features DAVID GILL of Bloomington, an emergency-room physician, running against Greene County State’s Attorney MATT GOETTEN. Gill, who ran three times against Johnson in a more Republican-leaning district, is unabashedly progressive, backing a form of national health care and directly taking on the GOP’s perceived “war on women.”  Goetten talks about jobs and protecting Social Security, and has backing of Durbin, who has long known the Goetten family. Goetten’s campaign, in recent days, has had surrogates, including Springfield Ward 3 Ald. DORIS TURNER, on conference calls to rebuff Gill’s attacks.

And in an odd twist, Goetten just Friday came out with a TV ad attacking Gill, but one of the people Goetten is shown talking to is CECIL TURNER, Doris’ husband, who may not be the best pick for such publicity. Cecil Turner served part of a 30-month federal prison sentence after convictions that said he participated in a scheme to allow janitors at the secretary of state’s office be paid for hours not worked. Last year, a judge vacated four wire-fraud convictions, but upheld convictions on two counts of making false statements to investigators. VLAD GUTMAN, Goetten’s campaign manager, defended the candidate, saying, “As a state’s attorney, no one is tougher on crime than Matt Goetten. He successfully prosecuted hundreds of people, but Alderman Turner’s husband has paid his debt to society and is now a contributing member of this community.”

I’m guessing Gill wins a close race.

Meanwhile, in a couple of Sangamon County Republican primary races, State’s Attorney JOHN MILHISER and Coroner CINDA EDWARDS will overcome challenges from KEN TUPY and TOM SHAFER, respectively.

Local GOP ‘transition’ talk
There is a new development in the Sangamon County GOP’s fight over chairmanship that has been held by TONY LIBRI since 2005. Precinct committeemen elected Tuesday will meet April 18 to pick the party leader for the next two years.

Libri told me Friday that while he has “every intention of running for chairman” for a new term, he’d work quickly to bring the party together, get everybody to agree on a new leader and “begin a transition” to have that leader take over.

“We have a lot of things we’re trying to implement,” he said, and once things are in place and agreement is reached, “I would step down at some point during that term. At what point, I don’t know.”

Also, add Sangamon County Auditor PAUL PALAZZOLO to the list of county officials who want Libri out as chairman. He said he likes the job Libri does as circuit clerk, but “it can be distracting and unproductive” to also have the party post.

Meanwhile, some folks running for precinct committeemen are clearly caught in the middle. MICHAEL LITTLE, who says he just wants to get people involved and has no favorite for county GOP chairman, is running against CHARLES I. SMITH, a grandson of former party chairman IRV SMITH.

“I’ve walked my precinct now four weeks in a row, gone to every home,” Little said.  “Now I guess I’m running against a state senator and an ex-mayor,” he added, because letters for young Smith have been sent out by anti-Libri officials, including Bomke and former Springfield Mayor KAREN HASARA.  

The younger Smith said he’s also for someone other than Libri, as “unity is important.”
Little noted no non-Libri candidate for chairman is being put forth by the anti-Libri faction, so there’s not even a choice presented.

“All we have said is that we would like to have a say in who the next chairman is and we would like it to be someone with whom everyone has some level of comfort,” Sangamon County Board Chairman ANDY VAN METER, also of the anti-Libri group, said later.

Van Meter, meanwhile, is the subject of a very demeaning, typewritten mail piece being distributed in Woodside 1, the precinct where he has been running against KATHLEEN ALCORN, the Leland Grove city clerk, for precinct committeeman. Alcorn hadn’t seen the letter until I showed it to her, called it very offensive, and said she is dropping out of contention to show she doesn’t support the tactics of whoever wrote it.

Libri said he didn’t know about or condone that letter.

Happy voting.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bschoenburg.