Bucking high state unemployment and early personal and political problems, Gov. James R. Thompson has taken an 11-point lead over Democratic challenger Adlai E. Stevenson in a Gallup Poll.
Thompson led Stevenson 52 percent to 41 percent in the state-wide poll commissioned by The Chicago Sun-Times and WMAQ-TV, the local NBC affiliate.
Gallup's survey of 1,540 voters was consistent with recent polls, including one taken reluctantly by the Democratic nominee. Except among blacks, Gallup's poll showed, Stevenson showed weaknesses with traditional Democratic groups including women, young people and union members.
With the rash of unfavorable polls -- one local ABC-TV survey showed a 19-point gap -- Stevenson broke a vow not to take any polls. The resulting Peter Hart survey showed Thompson leading Stevenson by six points, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 16 percent undecided.
"We had a bad August," Stevenson said, conceding that he should not have taken a nine-day Idaho vacation while his opponent continued stumping in Illinois. Stevenson said his campaign has suffered "organizational problems," but contended that they have been corrected.
Thompson is the only Republican governor seeking reelection in the upper Midwest. He has come from behind with aggressive street campaigning, intensive television advertising and by courting traditional Democratic constituencies.
For example, Stevenson received the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers, but only because the union leaders, who preferred Thompson, wanted to back a straight Democratic ticket.
Thompson dominated Chicago's Labor Day parade, riding on a horse-drawn beer rig and walking back and forth along the line of march six times in a red union cap and jacket. Stevenson, wearing a beige trench coat, marched inconspicuously with a cluster of public officials and then left.
Stevenson's campaign strategists have tried to focus attention on the state's economic problems, starting with its 11.8 percent unemployment rate, but the candidate has diverted press attention with his gaffes.
When his membership in a men-only club in Chicago's Loop was disclosed, Stevenson initially refused to quit, saying "it's very hard for me to find a place to lunch." During a Sept. 6 newspaper interview, he accused Thompson of implying that he is "some kind of wimp" -- inspiring a round of columns and jokes at Stevenson's expense.
Even Stevenson's running mate for lieutenant governor, Grace Mary Stern, reached for a laugh on the recurring issue. "Wimp means 'women in management positions,' " Stern told a Thursday fund-raising dinner for another candidate on the ticket.
In addition to his own stumbles, Stevenson's support in the Democratic party has weakened.
Thompson stole the show last Monday at a Democratic gala when he accepted a personal invitation from the host, Chicago Park District superintendent Edmund L. Kelly, one of the city's most powerful Democratic ward committeemen. Stevenson nearly missed the event because Kelly's written invitation went to the Senate office Stevenson vacated almost two years ago.
When speculation grew that Democratic leaders might be giving up on Stevenson, Cook County Democratic chairman Edward R. Vrdolyak pledged to help the financially strapped campaign. Vrdolyak said he would increase the party's contribution from $75,000 to $300,000 by election day with Mayor Jane Byrne's help.
Still short of his $2 million budget goal, Stevenson has been limited to intermittent television advertising. Thompson, nearing his target of $4 million, confidently expects to have ads on television through the Nov. 2 election.