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WASHINGTON — In the Illinois Senate primaries, GOP Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth hold commanding leads over their rivals, according to a new poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The survey shows how dramatically attorney Andrea Zopp is failing to catch on — and how Kirk, looking ahead to the November general election, has a lot of work to do to get better known in the state he has represented since he was first elected to the Senate in 2010.

The Senate ad wars are starting. Kirk first paid spot launches statewide on Tuesday. Duckworth’s inaugural statewide spot began running on Monday.

On the Illinois presidential front, the same survey found Democrat Hillary Clinton with a strong lead over rival Bernie Sanders. On the GOP side, Trump holds only a plurality advantage, with basically a three-way tie between Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich.

That means that Trump’s supremacy could be challenged if the GOP field consolidates more in the runup to the March 15 Illinois primary, with the March 1 “Super Tuesday” votes perhaps key.


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The poll was taken before Jeb Bush dropped out last Sunday, and before the GOP South Carolina primary; the Nevada votes; the Democrats on Saturday; and the Republicans on Tuesday night.

Illinois native Clinton was at 51 percent to 32 percent for Sanders, a University of Chicago grad, with 16 percent undecided. Clinton does much better than Sanders in Chicago (55 percent to 32 percent); the Chicago suburbs (53 percent to 31 percent); and downstate (44 percent to 36 percent).

Sanders does best with voters under 35; Clinton is more popular with voters over 66. The Illinois finding mirrors national trends. Clinton is ahead of Sanders with women and non-white voters in Illinois.

On the GOP side, it’s Trump at 28 percent to 15 percent for Cruz; 14 percent for Rubio; 13 percent for Kasich; and 15 percent undecided. Trump and Kasich are tied in Chicago.

“While this is good news for Trump, the poll also illustrates a problem for him: There are 72 percent of Illinois Republicans who are for someone else or are undecided,” said David Yepsen, director of the institute.

Kirk lags well behind Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. — who is not on the ballot — when it comes to job approval. The survey found Kirk with 39 percent approve; 31 disapprove; and 25 percent with no opinion.

Looking ahead to the general election, expected to be a big national battle, that means there is a lot of Kirk’s story to be filled in — either by the Democrats or by the Kirk camp. Durbin, in contrast, has 51 percent approve; 34 percent disapprove; and 12 percent with no opinion.

On the Democratic side, Duckworth is at 52 percent. Attorney Zopp is at 6 percent, and state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, who barely is campaigning, has 4 percent.

Zopp’s campaign has mapped out only one path — getting a massive African-American vote, with some help from Chicago area progressives. That’s why she has been focusing so much on Chicago-related criminal justice issues. Whatever Zopp’s strategy, it’s not working, according to the poll.

Still the situation is fluid, with 37 percent of Democrats undecided. Most of the undecided voters, about 55 percent, are downstate; 38 percent in Chicago; and 28 percent in the Chicago suburbs.

In the GOP primary, Kirk is at 53 percent, with James Marter, his barely known rival running to his right, scoring 14 percent. Thirty-three percent were undecided. I take that 14 percent to be a baseline of Tea Party and conservative Republicans who have been at odds with Kirk.

About the poll: Cellphones and land lines called. Sample of 306 Republicans, 422 Democrats in survey of 1,000 registered voters conducted Feb. 15-20. Margin of error: GOP, 5.6 percent; Democrats, 4.7 percent.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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