Thompson (left) and Giuliani

Barack vs. Hillary is the main event, but the undercard on the Feb. 5th Illinois primary ballot may be more competitive: the race to determine the Republican presidential nomination.

“I would think Illinois is going to get more attention from the Republican candidates,” says Professor John Jackson of Southern Illinois University. “Even though Rudy Giuliani has a lead, he has several candidates on his heels.” A poll taken in September by the University of Illinois-Springfield had Giuliani at 34 percent, followed by John McCain with 19, Fred Thompson with 12, and Mitt Romney with 11.

“I think that Giuliani represents a kind of moderate Republican politics that we often see in the Republicans that win statewide office,” says Richard Schuldt, director of the school’s Survey Research Office. “He’s pro-choice, tolerant on gay rights.” That has won him the endorsement of moderate Republican icons Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, as well as Illinois House minority leader Tom Cross and Congresswoman Judy Biggert. Former gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz has also ponied up for Giuliani, as have Bolingbrook’s Mayor Roger Claar and Atlanta Braves chairman emeritus Bill Bartholomay (based on filings through September 30th).

McCain is backed by a long list of state legislators, led by state campaign chairmen Senator Frank Watson and Representative James Durkin. Financial help has come from incoming Tribune Company chairman Sam Zell, who has also given to Giuliani.

Despite Romney‘s fourth place in the polls, his campaign, led by state senator Dan Rutherford and former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, was organized well enough to win a straw poll at this summer’s Illinois State Fair. Romney, who has a campaign office in Pontiac, has received cash from super-lobbyist Bill Cellini, chewing gum heir William Wrigley Jr., former Chicago Bear Gary Fencik, and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches founder Jimmy John Liautaud.

As befits Thompson‘s image as a rural conservative, many of his supporters come from downstate. His campaign chairs are state senator Bill Brady of Bloomington and U.S. Representative Don Manzullo, of Egan. Beyond that, his roster of endorsements is filled with legislators from such prairie villages as Willow Hill, Colchester, Onarga, and Gilson.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who placed last in the U. of I. poll, never got back to us with a list of endorsements. He does, however, have a blog, at