George Will

     He has a penchant for policy flamboyance, too. He has excoriated the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry over their refusal to support his plan to import prescription drugs. He proposes getting junk food out of Illinois schools and banning the sale of ``violent or sexually explicit'' video games. This lawyers' delight would require litigating, yet again, the meaning of the phrases such as ``appeal to the prurient interest'' and ``sexually explicit.''

     He voted for Reagan twice -- this son of a Serbian immigrant steelworker was the archetypal Reagan Democrat -- and still picks his own political paths: He is at daggers drawn with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who wants casino gambling that the governor opposes. ``It's just too easy, all this found money,'' Blagojevich says. When Daley asked him, ``Don't you want the money?'' Blagojevich replied, ``Frankly, no.''

     He actually is a reformer of sorts. ``I'm a Democrat from Chicago,'' he says with bumptious disregard for the mayor's feelings, ``so I can talk about waste in government.'' He has reduced the state government's work force from 69,000 to 59,000. Before his administration, state employees paid no share of their pensions. Now, in exchange for a pay raise negotiated with AFSCME, the public employees union, employees must contribute 4 percent of their pay.

     Blagojevich lives in Chicago, not in the governor's mansion in Springfield, and is thought to be interested in moving on, to the president's mansion, as the White House was originally called. There is, however, a new problem. The 2004 elections produced an Illinois superstar with national possibilities, Sen. Barack Obama.

     For nine decades of the last century, Illinois was the nation's political barometer, voting with the winner in all but two presidential elections, 1916 and 1976, both years when the country would have done itself a favor by emulating Illinois. But in the two elections in the 1990s Bill Clinton carried it by 15 and then 17 points. Since then Republicans have not competed here: Bush lost it by 12 points in 2000 and 10 in 2004, when the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate was a gasbag from Maryland, Alan Keyes.

     Blagojevich already has $10.4 million for a 2006 re-election campaign, and although serious Republicans are looking to run, he probably can count on the 33rd Ward. Probably.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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