Illinois, a traditional swing state with more electoral votes (26) than any of its Midwestern neighbors, is fast becoming a key battleground for the three major presidential contenders.
Although the land of Lincoln, which went for Gerald Ford in 1976, has been tagged in recent weeks by both Republican and Democratic pollsters as leaning toward Ronald Reagan, no candidate, including the GOP nominee himself, is putting much stock by that prediction. The reace is considered wide open.
President Carter finally gained Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne's official nod of support after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, her favorite, was put out of the running at the Democratic National Convention. The President has made two campaign trips to Illinois just in the last week. He returns again Oct. to speak at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser.
Mr. Reagan, too, has been here frequently, courting ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago and traditionally Republican suburbs.
Illinois also happens to be the home of Rep. John Anderson, who is expected to garner more Republican votes here than Democratic. Just this week in a campaign visit to Chicago, Mr. Anderson borrowed a phrase from poet Carl Sandburg and predicted a ride to victory for his ticket on the city's "wide shoulders."
But the congressman's Illinois coordinator, Dave Schulz, while insisting that Anderson is likely to fare better downstate in the general election than he did in the primaries because of improved organization, concedes that the core of the candidate's strenght is in the traditionally Republican northern suburbs of Chicago.
It is Chicago's populous suburbs, in fact, that are viewed as crucial to any candidate's vicpaign, which last time relied on Chicago's heavily Democratic vote, is out to "enhance" the President's position in the suburbs -- particularly in the south and west.
"We smell opportunity out there," explains Michael Casey, the Carter coordinator for Illinois. "And it's a different kind of effort in the suburbs than last time -- more intense and more high-profile."
Roughly one-half of Illinois's voters live in Cook County. Although usually considered a reliable Democratic stronghold in the days of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, it is less automatically so in 1980. The reason is an underlying tension that occasionally surfaces in verbal swipes between Mayor Byrne and State Sen. Richard Daley, the late mayor's son, who is running on the Democratic ticket for the office of Cook County state's attorney. Mayor Byrne, who says she will vote a straight Democratic ticket in November, reportedly views Senator Daley's bid for office as a trial run for the mayoral race in 1983 and has accused him of running a "campaign of hatred."
Since Daley has been a longtime supporter of the President, the dispute has put the Carter forces in an awkward position. So far, Carter has tried to sidestep offending the mayor -- sending Vice-President Walter Mondale to campaign with Daley and recruiting his wife, Rosalynn, as a stand-in speaker at a recent Daley fund-raising banquet.
"The fact that the [Democratic] party in the city is shattered has got to be a plus for us, no matter how you look at it," says Donald Totten, regional political director of the Reagan campaign.
While Mayor Byrne is not regarded as much of a kingmaker even under the most united Democratic Party circumstances, it remains a touchy question as to whether active campaigning on her part would help or hurt the President.