The Land of Lincoln keeps looking for a presidential candidate who lives up to its name. ``I'm still waiting and watching,'' said Cook County Deputy Sheriff Roger Williams, who at the annual Republican sheriff's picnic earlier this month said he wasn't smitten with either Michael Dukakis or George Bush.
All the characters in the media script for the 1988 presidential election are here in Illinois in force: the Reagan Democrats, the blue-collar vote, the farm vote, the suburban vote, and the Jesse Jackson vote.
``Illinois really represents a kind of microcosm of the nation - it is very close politically and probably will be up to the last hour,'' says Judith Erwin of Governor Dukakis's Illinois campaign.
It's the kind of state the Democrats need to win in order to reverse the national Republican presidential majority; it is a rural Southern and Midwestern and Northern industrial state rolled into one.
History is on the Republicans' side: This state has not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, during Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater.
A recent poll showed Dukakis leading 47 to 40 percent, and there are indications that Vice-President Bush's downstate and suburban support may be softer than a GOP candidate needs to win here.
But in a slow-starting campaign, support for both candidates has seemed as soft as a Lake Michigan sand dune.
At a recent meeting featuring the Rev. Mr. Jackson, who was urging inner-city voters to register, Operation PUSH staff member Charles Samuel Watson Jr. wasn't too enthusiastic about the Dukakis candidacy to date. ``I'm just waiting to see what happens,'' he said.
The race to register voters before an impending Oct. 11 deadline has been watched for indications of relative strengths here.
A coordinator of Democratic registration efforts says his party hopes to add 100,000 voters to rolls in Chicago, where South Side black neighborhoods are traditionally a rich source of support for the party.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who got started earlier in registering voters, have mounted a campaign that they say has already registered about 100,000 in Cook County suburbs.
Added organizational oomph for Republicans in the Chicago area has come from the defection of several former Democratic politicians, who, the party hopes, will boost the GOP vote in the city.
One veteran Republican committeeman says that while Bush is unlikely to do as well as Ronald Reagan in Chicago, he should do well enough to win the state, if GOP votes fall into place elsewhere.
The GOP hopes 1988 will be a milestone in a shift of white neighborhood voters in the city and nearby suburbs to the Republican Party, a shift paralleling on a less-dramatic scale the transfer of the city's black vote to the Democratic party in the 1930s and '40s.
But some analysts say the numbers of loyal ``Reagan Democrats'' are just not large enough to be a deciding factor in November.
``I think you'll see an end to it Nov. 8,'' says Rep. William O. Lipinski (D) of Illinois, referring to talk of a local Republican resurgence. He says that neighborhoods are more enthusiastic about Dukakis than they ever were about Walter Mondale, and that Bush lacks Reagan's appeal.
However the city's Democrats have been churned up by local party factions that are jockeying for position in an upcoming mayoral election.
Some local Democrats have also been turned off by Jackson's role in the Dukakis candidacy - considering it either too small or too great, depending on their racial or ideological background.
But Democratic committeemen hope a ``rainbow'' ticket of Cook County candidates engineered by the late Mayor Harold Washington will draw out black, Hispanic, and white-ethnic voters. And the Dukakis campaign is counting on a replay of Democrat Paul Simon's US Senate victory in 1984. Then, at the height of in-fighting among Chicago Democrats, local factions pulled together, and a strong showing downstate helped put him over the top.
Downstate, the Dukakis camp is targeting urban, potentially Democratic pockets, and Bush campaign officials are concerned about a stricken central farm-belt zone where Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas ran well in the primary.
Ms. Erwin says a moderate image is key to winning Illinois. That puts Dukakis in a trapeze artist's role, shaky but full of potential momentum as he woos suburban, white-ethnic, and black voters.
``I don't think there's that much of a problem forecasting Illinois for the Democrats. Dukakis's kind of issues, farm problems, job creation, job location, reindustrialization, run strong in Illinois,'' says Garth Taylor, research director of the Chicago Urban League.
Paul Green of Governors State University says that it's in Chicago's suburbs that the Democrats must make inroads to prove they have a presidential future in Illinois.
``The message at the convention was that [Dukakis] was a suburban homeowner who understands the problems of suburbia, and he sort of has gone into hibernation on that issue,'' Mr. Green says. ``Illinois will be a very tough state for Dukakis to carry.''