Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Illinois Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will focus on the Illinois Senate election, in which Republican candidate Mark Kirk pulled out a close Republican victory in a strongly Democratic state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Illinois’s Senatorial Election

Link to Map of Illinois, 2010 Senate Election

Senator Mark Kirk’s victory follows the contours of a previous post, titled Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois. This post argued:

So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

As it turns out, this is almost exactly what actually happened in the election.

The previous analysis divided Illinois into three sections: Chicago, the suburbs of Chicago, and downstate Illinois. Let’s take a look at what Mr. Kirk did in each part of Illinois.

Chicago

Illinois is generally a Democratic stronghold. Cook County, home to the city of Chicago, composes more than 40% of the state’s population, and Democrats always win by a landslide in the county. Republicans have to stretch themselves to the limit everywhere else in the state – winning even the areas that normally vote Democratic – to get close.

But Republicans also must dampen Democratic margins in Cook County. This happens if Republicans can do well in the parts of Cook County outside Chicago, which are whiter and more conservative. In the city of Chicago itself, most voters are so Democratic that they will prefer not voting to casting the ballot for a Republican. There, low turn-out is more important for Republicans than actually winning over voters.

In 2010, Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias won 64.3% of the vote in Cook County.

At first glance, this sounds quite good. Winning 64.3% of the vote is nothing to sniff at. No president has ever won that much of the popular vote in history.

But Senator John Kerry won 70.2% of the vote in Cook County. And President Barack Obama took 76.2% of the vote. In modern Illinois politics, a Democratic candidate who takes only 64.3% of the vote in Cook County is in deep trouble.

Chicago’s Suburbs

“Previewing Senate Elections, Illinois” stated that:

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs…

He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.

As it turned out, Mr. Kirk passed the test with flying colors. His moderate image and suburban origin led to double-digit victories in every one of the collar counties surrounding Cook County.

In the past, Republicans have won Illinois through massive support in the Chicago’s suburbs to offset the Democratic advantage in Chicago itself. Mr. Kirk was able to somewhat replicate this model in 2010:

Link to Table Comparing Dupage and Cook County Margins

This strength did not extend to all Republicans. Republican candidate Bill Brady, for instance, still won the Chicago suburbs. But his margins were just the slightest bit off – a high single-digit rather than double-digit victory here; a 15-point rather than 20-point margin there – and ultimately this led to Mr. Brady’s defeat.

Downstate Illinois

Imagine that the year is 1990, and Republican Mark Kirk pulls the exact same numbers in the Chicago metropolis.

Most analysts in that year would say that Mr. Kirk is on his way to a sure loss – after all, Democrats are quite competitive in downstate Illinois, and Mr. Kirk just hasn’t squeezed enough juice from the collar counties.

Today, however, downstate Illinois has trended firmly Republican. Without this trend Mr. Kirk would not have won.

Here is an illustration of Illinois in the 1992 presidential election:

Link to Map of Illinois, 1992 Presidential Election

President Bill Clinton is doing quite well, winning almost every single county downstate – many by double-digits. Compare this to President Barack Obama’s performance:

Link to Map of Illinois, 2008 Presidential Election

Mr. Obama is actually doing much better in Illinois than Mr. Clinton, and yet he loses a number of the downstate counties Mr. Clinton won.

This illustrates the shift in downstate Illinois to the Republican side, and in 2010 Mr. Kirk took full advantage of that trend to win re-election.

Conclusions

The post “Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois” concluded by mapping, somewhat light-heartedly, a hypothetical Republican victory:

Link to Map of Hypothetical Republican Victory in Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s victory ended up looking extremely similar:

Link to Map of Actual Republican Victory in Illinois

All in all, it is always exciting to see a Republican victory in a Democratic stronghold, or a Democratic victory in a Republican stronghold. Mr. Kirk’s victory is the first time a Republican has won Illinois in quite a while. It constitutes one of the Republican Party’s greatest triumphs in the 2010 midterm elections.

--Inoljt

 

Illinois Senate & Gov

A couple of the more interesting races to watch for 3rd party movement are in Illinois, where the Democrats and Republicans have both fielded unpopular candidates, and the Green Party is in double-digits with the recent PPP polls.

In the Governor's race, Democrat Pat Quinn has a 27% approval rating; Republican Bill Brady has an obscure 22% approval. On the Senate side, the Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and the Republican Mark Kirk are both at 23% approval ratings. 

The Governor's slate is not quite as bad as it was last cycle, when Blagojevich was running against Topinka. That would have been enough for me, if I lived in Illinois (I once lived in Princeville as a kid), to vote along with 10% of the population, for the Green candidate. The 2006 Gov results were:

Blagojevich 49
Topinka      39
Whitney      10

Whitney polled at 14% in two SUSA polls prior to the 2006 election. The PPP poll for 2010 shows:

Brady (R)  34
Quinn (D)  30
Whitney (G) 9
Undecided  27

Adsman Bill Hillsman is working with Whitney this cycle, so we could see some very interesting ads show up.

In the Senate race, the failed bankster Giannoulias actually bested a very good candidate, David Hoffman, Chicago's Inspector General.

Hoffman would be well ahead at this point, without the Giannoulias baggage. Kirk has been ahead, but he's got his own baggage of "mis-remembering" his military record. Right. So, the perception is that you've got a cheat and a liar as the D-R combo. Enter the unknown.

One is LeAlan Jones, the assistant football coach at Simeon High School. He has focused on helping young people as a journalist and television producer, and now as Green Party candidate to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.

 34% 
Bill Brady......................................................... 
 30% 
Pat Quinn........................................................ 
  9% Rich Whitney................................................... 
 12% 
Q10If you are 18 to 29 years old, press 1 now.  If 
you are 30 to 45, press 2.  If you are 46 to 65, 
 34% 
Bill Brady......................................................... 
 30% 
Pat Quinn........................................................ 
  9% Rich Whitney................................................... 
 12% 
Q10If you are 18 to 29 years old, press 1 now.  If 
you are 30 to 45, press 2.  If you are 46 to 65, 

Voters are having a point of conscience and pulling the lever (in polls for now) for the unknown Green instead of a candidate like Giannoulias or Kirk. Here's the recent PPP Senate polling:

Giannoulias (D) 31
Kirk (R)            30
Jones (G)         14
Undecided        24

Now, the favorable rating of Green is only 2%, so that means 12% of the voters are just voting another choice. But that's not all, as fiscal and social conservative Mike Niecestro is going to jump in the race. 

Niecestro is likely to get some strong traction, as he's pledging to put in his own funds, and run as an Independent in the Senate race:

The 51-year-old west suburban mortgage banker says he has at least one million dollars of his own money to spend. He is a fiscal and social conservative who is not concerned that he might wreck Republican Kirk's chances in November.

"I'm not doing this to be Mark Kirk's spoiler," said Niecestro. "I'm looking to do this to win the seat, and I'm not gonna get into a match with the Republican or Democratic party and try to outwit them and outspend them, because I can't afford to do that. The only thing I can do is use my resources as best as possible to outsmart them."

Its not hard imagining that Niecestro gets into double-digits pretty soon; we'll see how it shakes out.

 

 

Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing competitive Senate elections in blue states. The second part can be found here.

Illinois

In November 2010, Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will face off against Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, in what looks to be a competitive Senate race. A heavily blue state, Democrats have been hurt by a bad national environment coupled with continuing fall-out from the Rod Blagojevich scandals.

Out of the three states being analyzed (the other two being California and New York), Illinois is the state in which Republicans are strongest. Out of the three, it is also the state with the most competitive forthcoming election. This post will analyze the political contours of the state, and the long and difficult path Mr. Kirk must tread for victory.

Illinois, 2008

With respect to demographics, Illinois is structured very simply. It has three parts: Chicago, its suburban metropolis, and the mostly rural downstate.

To win, Congressman Mark Kirk will need to run a gauntlet of challenges in each of section of the state. He must capitalize on Republican strength downstate, revive it in the suburbs, and hope that Chicago turn-out is depressed. If done properly, this will result in a close-run, Scott-Brown type victory.

Downstate Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s easiest task should be here.  Much of downstate Illinois has more in common with Kentucky and Missouri than far-north Chicago. Like these two states, the region has been trending Republican: Bill Clinton did far better than Barack Obama here.

There are several complicating factors. Downstate Illinois has several population centers – but these cities tend to vote less Republican (they all voted for Obama, for instance). Moreover, Mr. Kirk hails from the Chicago metropolis and has a reputation as a moderate congressman; he may not play too well with rural conservatives.

Nevertheless, the region constitutes the Republican base, and Mr. Kirk will need every vote he can get. He should be able to win downstate Illinois quite comfortably. He will have to. After all, President George W. Bush won practically every single county here – and he lost Illinois by double-digits.

Chicago’s Suburbs

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs. His task is doable, but not exactly easy.

There is good news and bad news for Republicans. First the good news: unlike other solidly blue states, the Chicago suburbs still vote Republican. Like Orange County, for years their strength kept Republicans competitive in Illinois. Take a look at suburban DuPage County:

(Note: A negative margin indicates that Democrats lost Cook County, or that Republicans lost DuPage County.)

Even after Democrats started winning suburbs, during President Bill Clinton’s time, Chicago’s suburbs continued voting Republican. In 2004, for instance, George Bush won DuPage county by a little less than 10%.

The bad news for Republicans is that each election, they win the suburbs by a little less. In 2008 President Barack Obama swept DuPage County and the rest of Chicago’s suburbs by double-digits. This victory constituted the culmulation of decades of leftward movement.

The test for Mr. Kirk is the extent to which he can reverse this trend. He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.

Chicago

43.3% of Illinois residents live in Cook County, home to America’s third-largest city. Of these, half call Chicago home; the other half live in an inner ring of suburbs.

If God decided to create the ideal Democratic stronghold, he would get something like Chicago. The city is heavily populated by black and Latino minorities, mixed together with a dollop of white liberals. As a cherry on top, it is also home to President Barack Obama – and Chicagoans are highly aware of this fact.

Whether he loses or wins by a landslide, Mark Kirk will not win Cook County. He will just have to take the blow, cross his fingers, and pray that minority turn-out is low (as it has been, this year). That is not a good strategy, but it is the best Republicans can do when 89% of them are white, and they are competing in a minority-majority city.

Conclusions

So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

One hypothetical:

As we will see, this task is easier compared to the challenges Republicans face in California and New York. In Illinois they can (barely) get away with a white-only coalition. In California Republicans absolutely must win minorities – a novel challenge. As for New York – it is similar to Illinois, except that New York City is double the size of Chicago. And upstate New York is trending Democratic.

--Inoljt

 

Progressive Democrat Newsletter Issue 240

Welcome to 2010. Hope everyone had a good break.

In 2010 we still have a long way to go with our economic recovery. And, as I have been saying for more than 5 years, the best way to revitalize our economy is through conversion to a green economy. Focusing on energy solutions like solar, wind, small hydroelectric, methane capture, biodiesel, etc. we create American jobs, produce energy more locally (hence improving the efficiency of energy delivery) and reduce our dependence on nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The United States has dragged its feet on this. As individuals we have generally been reluctant to make the personal decisions necessary to create a sound market for clean energy. And our local, state and Federal governments have been painfully slow to put in the incentives and regulations that would encourage such a shift. In 2010 we have to turn the tide both as individuals and at the level of government. This is critical both for job creation and for addressing global warming.

There's more...

Progressive Democrat Newsletter Issue 238

Trying to get back to regular newsletters, but it may not be quite weekly.

I am continuing to introduce a some more local pages focusing on particular counties or congressional districts in Texas, California and New York. These are focused on some swing districts that I think are worth concentrating on where I think I have readers. So keep an eye open for some new info on some local districts in these three states. My intention is to compile some info which I won't necessarily update regularly, but will still be a good resource for people in those areas. This week I add Suffolk County and the 19th Congressional District in New York. My motivation is that these are districts with Democrats who are very progressive for the districts they represent (thanks to this website for info: www.progressivepunch.org) and who are potential targets for Republican challengers, so I want to help them out. I also started coverage of Lancaster County, PA where the Pitts of Stupal-Pitts is the Congressional Rep. Last newsletter I covered the TX-10 and TX-21 districts where healthcare reform is desperately needed but obstructionist Republicans are preventing it.

There's more...

Diaries

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