DEMOCRATIC Sen. Paul Simon and Republican Rep. Lynn Martin still call each other friends, but their relationship may need a little patching up by Election Day. The GOP has a prime opportunity to pick up a United States Senate seat in Illinois this fall, and Mr. Simon and Mrs. Martin will be at the center of that brawl.
Six years ago, the bow-tied Simon captured his Senate post by edging Charles Percy by just 89,126 votes out of more than 4.7 million cast. This time it could be just as close.
Republicans are lining up big money - $3.4 million so far - and one of their savviest and toughest media consultants, Roger Ailes, to knock Simon out of the Senate.
For months, the little-known Martin, who represents the 16th District in northern Illinois, trailed Simon by 20 points. But the latest survey by Political Media Research (PMR) found Simon's lead shrinking to just 12 points (51 to 39), with Martin picking up support fast among undecided voters.
``It has narrowed, and it will narrow some more,'' concedes Simon, who had breakfast the other day with Washington reporters.
``Clearly I'm ahead right now. But the Republican senatorial campaign committee has budgeted more money to defeat me than any other candidate.... We are going to have a horse race.''
The senator is bracing himself for biting attacks on TV. ``No one has ever hired Roger Ailes because of his positive media,'' he quips.
But Martin counters that Simon's consultants, Doak, Shrum, & Associates, are just as tough. ``I don't know Mr. [Bob] Shrum, but he comes highly regarded in terms of throwing rocks, too.''
Simon responds: ``I don't intend to be punched and not punch back.''
Martin, known for her sharp wit, served as a stand-in for Geraldine Ferraro during mock debates with George Bush in the 1984 vice presidential race. Her style is aggressive.
``Paul ... is a nice guy,'' Martin says, but ``absolutely out of touch. He's been in [political] office almost 40 years. Just the same old stuff: Let's tax more, let's spend more. And nothing for the '90s.''
She points out that in Simon's latest book (he has written 11), the senator admits he will never be a legislative leader. ``I felt, wait a minute. That is what you are supposed to be doing.''
Instead, she says Simon still pines for the White House following his 1988 bid for the presidency: ``He wants to go again [in 1992]. ... That means Illinois gets shortchanged again.''
Martin's strategy is clear-cut: Charge Simon with caring more about the White House than the Senate; exploit issues like flag-burning and capital punishment; and show that she would fight harder for Illinois.
Simon concedes that Martin's political tactics have appeal. He says she has taken popular positions on the flag-burning amendment (she is for it, he is against), capital punishment (she is for, he is against), foreign aid (he favors more, she favors less), statehood for the District of Columbia (he favors it, she opposes it), and taxes (she opposes higher taxes, he says Washington needs more revenue).
But Simon, a former newspaperman, says he relishes debating issues like flag-burning with Martin.
``The WBBM poll in Illinois showed 78 percent of the people favored a constitutional amendment [to ban flag-burning], so I suppose I'm on the defensive somewhat,'' Simon says. ``But last year four people in this nation were arrested for burning a flag. Do we rush in and amend the Bill of Rights for the first time in 200 years because four people burned the flag? ... I would hope that issue comes up. I think I can win with any rational audience.''
Perhaps more important to Simon's chances will be his ability to fend off charges that he is putting Illinois second, after his national ambitions.
Martin is trying to exploit that issue with the savings-and-loan scandals. She charges that Washington insiders like Simon are trying to raise taxes to bail out the S&Ls - at the same time hurting Illinois. ``For my state, a tax increase is a disaster,'' she says.
Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 states in funds received per capita from the federal government, she says. For every $1 that goes to Washington from Illinois, only 72 cents comes back. So why would any Illinois senator favor higher taxes? she asks. Higher taxes will just mean ``an incredible transfer of wealth to Texas'' and other states in the Southwest where most of the S&Ls went broke.
Simon says: ``The reality is, we have guaranteed these [S&L] accounts nationally. We can't walk away from that.''
Nor can Simon walk away from this political fight. It should be a doozy.