ILLINOIS PRIMARY IS CRUCIAL TEST

ILLINOIS PRIMARY IS CRUCIAL TEST

Next Tuesday's Illinois primary is a must-win test for more than just a few of the presidential hopefuls.

The key issues here are the decline of the industrial Midwest, the trade deficit and the farm economy.On the Democratic side, Rep. Richard Gephardt needs to win big in Illinois to stop the momentum of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and Rev. Jesse Jackson. It's unclear how well Sen. Albert Gore Jr. will do in Illinois, although he surprised political strategists by making a strong showing Super Tuesday.

Sen. Robert Dole's bid for the Republican nomination is on the line in Illinois, in the wake of the political steamroller that Vice President George Bush rode across the South Tuesday.

One Dole campaign aide, when asked about the candidate's schedule, said, We're taking it day to day.

At stake in Illinois are 173 Democratic and 92 Republican delegates.

Two of the Democrats will be campaigning in Illinois on familiar turf, and both candidates are expected to battle over the lion's share of the Democratic delegates.

Sen. Paul Simon, who skipped the Super Tuesday states, hails from Makanda, Ill., and will take his home-style politics to downstate Illinois cities in the coming days.

In a statement, he said that Super Tuesday has left the Democratic nomination process in a state of confusion and grid-lock.

The primaries and caucuses have not left a clear vision of the two or three finalists, he said, adding, there is no real communication with voters.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who did well Tuesday, has a strong urban political base in Chicago, and he's calling on that support at a get out the vote rally Sunday at Chicago's McCormick Place exhibition hall.

Rev. Jackson will capture a fair share of the Chicago-based delegates, while Mr. Simon will win a large chunk of the downstate and rural votes.

All the Democratic candidates will appear on the same stage in Chicago tonight for an Illinois Democratic Unity party.

While the Democrats may appear united tonight, their differences will be highlighted again and again in the coming days.

Mr. Simon said voters are looking for someone with fire in their heart to inspire and lead and many voters view him as a clear winner.

Mr. Gephardt's stance on the impact of imports on the economy is capturing the attention of voters as well. And Rev. Jackson is a serious candidate who continues to pick up voter support.