The presidential contenders are not the only ones wih vital stakes in the outcome of the March 18 Illinois primary. Voters here will also be declining which Republican and Democratic candidates will vie for the seat of retiring US Sen. Adlai Stevenson III (D).
And one other race -- that for the Democratic nomination for state's attorney from Cook County (Chicago) -- is viewed here as crucial test of Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne's control of the county Democratic organization.
Illinois, a closely divided state politically, has long sent to Washington one senator from each of the major parties. If that tradition were followed, Senator Stevenson's seat would go to a Democrat. But it is the race for a Republican nominee that so far has captured most of the public attention.
Still ahead of the other two major contenders -- but by a shrinking margin, according to the polls -- is Attorney General William Scott, the state's chief law-enforcement officer since 1969 and long one of the GOP's top vote-getters. The hitch this time is that he has been charged with under-reporting his income and filing false income tax returns from 1972 to 1975.
After a 10-week trial of his case in federal court, the jury has begun deliberations. Mr. Scott hopes the verdict is reached and announced before voting day.
"The only thing that could save him is a well-publicized [innocent] verdict before the election and a sympathetic backlash from it," observes John Jackson, professor of political science at the University of Southern Illinois.
Seen as the more likely Republican nominee now is Lt. Gov. Dave O'Neal, a pharmacist and former downstate sheriff who is considered politically conservative. The third major contender, Peoria Major Richard Carver, who has the Chicago Tribune's endorsement and is head of the US Conference of Mayors, was viewed as the GOP favorite in the early days of the race last fall. But for some reason his campaign seems never to have sparked much interest among voters. Both Tribune and Chicago Sun Times polls recently have shown him running well behind Mr. Scott and Mr. O'Neal.
Voter preference polls give a strong edge to Illinois Secretary of State Alan Dixon as the likely Democratic nominee for the Senate seat. His chief rival is Alex Seith, the suburban Chicago attorney who waged a highly personal, unsuccessful campaign against US Sen. Charles Percy (R) two years ago. Mr. Seith stresses Mayor Byrne's endorsement of Mr. Dixon (calling it the "kiss of death") and charges that the mayor, by such a choice, is trying to take over the state Democratic organization.
Mayor Byrne's control of the so-called Democratic machine, once headed by Mayor Richard J. Daley, also is veiwed as facing a crucial test in the race for the Democratic nominee for Cook Country state's attorney.
Ironically, state Sen. Richard Daley, the late mayor's son and namesake, is running against the machine his father once headed. The man endorsed by Mayor Byrne and the county Democratic organization here is Alderman Edward Burke, who has been running farther and farther behind Senator Daley in the polls.
Mr. Burke is Viewed as a City Hall insiders. Mr. Daley has promised to use the broad investigative powers of the state's attorney to probe rumored organized crime connections at City Hall and in the Chicago Police Department.