BLOOMINGTON — Five weeks out from Election Day, the 13th Congressional District race is the toss-up that it was predicted to be, according to a poll released Monday.
The poll, paid for by the campaign of Democratic candidate David Gill, shows Gill with 40 percent, Republican Rodney Davis with 39 percent and independent John Hartman with 8 percent. The survey of 400 registered, likely voters was taken Sept. 26 and 27.
Gill's tiny lead is well within the poll's 4.9 percentage point margin of error, according to pollster Donna Victoria.
The race apparently is closer today that it was in early August when another poll taken by Victoria for Gill showed him with a 6 percentage point lead over Davis.
"Both candidates have essentially gotten their bases solidified," said Victoria, the owner of Victoria Research and Consulting in Takoma Park, Md. "Certainly we expected that Rodney Davis would be able to get at least 39 percent of the vote — he got a late start, and his base (is) starting to figure out who their nominee is."
Polling numbers have consistently shown that the new 13th District, which runs from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, is a marginally Democratic district.
While Gill was chosen the Democratic nominee at his party's March primary election, Davis became the Republican nominee after incumbent Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, opted not to run after wining his party's primary. Davis then was chosen the GOP candidate in mid-May at a closed-door meting of Republican county chairmen.
Despite the closeness of the polling, the Gill campaign said it was encouraged by the result.
"The other side has spent over a million dollars since the last poll; Gill is still up," said Victoria.
"We are confident this campaign is moving in the right direction," said Gill spokeswoman Lucy Stein.
A new report by the Federal Election Commission on so-called "independent" or "superPAC" spending in the race shows that $1.795 million has been devoted to the race, most of it against Gill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce entered the race over the weekend, saying it would put $500,000 in advertising to oppose Gill. A 30-second ad posted online by the Chamber of Commerce hits Gill for his support of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and for a plan to raise taxes "on job creators."
The ad, according to the Gill campaign, features a Minnesota businesswoman, Darlene Miller, whose company, Permac Industries, benefited from a Small Business Administration loan but then outsourced some of its work to China.
Six independent groups have entered the 13th District race, most of them running attack ads against either Gill or Davis. Four groups are running ads to oppose Gill — the American Action Network, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the New Prosperity Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Two — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Service Employees International Union — are spending money to oppose Davis.
The DCCC is still the biggest spender in the race, having devoted $567,122 on ads attacking Davis.
But according to the Gill campaign, slightly more than $1 million has been spent either by the independent groups or by the Davis campaign on ads opposed to Gill.
Hartman's 8 percent showing remains surprisingly high (he got 9 percent in the August survey) since he has spent no money on advertising and has attracted little news coverage in the district.
Victoria said it's unclear what impact he could have on the race.
"(His current supporters) could go to Gill, they could go to Davis, they could stay put; I really think it is very hard to say," she said. "Hartman could go higher than 8 percent, since there will not be a barrage of negative advertising against him."
So far the other candidates, as well as the independent groups, have ignored Hartman in their advertising and their public statements.
The Gill campaign declined to release many details about the poll, saying that it is "key tactical information." But they did say that Gill leads Davis among voters who were asked "who will prevent tax increases on the middle class," and "who understands the challenges facing ordinary working people." And more people believe Davis "will cut your Medicare coverage" than believe Gill will do so, the Gill campaign said.