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

 

Previewing Senate Elections

Over the next few posts I will be previewing a select few competitive Senate elections. These posts will focus less on individual personalities and more on overarching state dynamics – what parts of the state vote Democratic, swing, and vote Republican.

These states will be mainly Democratic strongholds, rather than swing states, because this election cycle is the first in many in which they have been competitive. Another opportunity for analyzing these places will probably not occur for a while.

I am specifically talking about Illinois, New York, and California. Each state has different qualities: some are moving Democratic, parts of others are moving Republican. Versus Massachusetts, Democrats have several advantages. Big cities are a major factor in all three states, and high percentages of minorities live there. These compose the core of Mr. Obama’s strength.

On the other hand, Republicans have one distinct advantage over Massachusetts. In Massachusetts there were only two types of voters: Democrats and Independents. Illinois, New York, and California all have another type of voter. These are commonly called “Republicans.”

In comparison to my series analyzing swing states, I hope to keep these posts relatively short and simple. First off will be Illinois, where Congressman Mark Kirk looks set to run an extremely close race with Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Maps of Ohio Elections

A few maps of Ohio’s presidential elections are posted/linked below, for your enjoyment. Each map comes with some brief analysis.

Ohio, 2008 Presidential Election

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

Senator Barack Obama wins Ohio by 4.6%, a solid but unimpressive victory. Mr. Obama performs poorly in traditional Democratic areas – the northeast and even Cleveland – but offsets this with unique strength in Columbus and Cincinnati. Senator McCain runs strongly in the Republican base.

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Ohio, 2004 Presidential Election

President George W. Bush wins Ohio by a close but decisive margin. Senator John Kerry does extremely well – winning Columbus and Cleveland by what his campaign wants – but Mr. Bush’s exurban strength famously overwhelms this strength. Nevertheless, Ohio votes more Democratic than the nation, the first time since 1972.

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Ohio, 2000 Presidential Election

Vice President Al Gore gives up Ohio before election-day; Governor George W. Bush wins the state by 3.5%. Perhaps, campaign strategists later muse, they should not have abandoned the state.

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Ohio, 1996 Presidential Election

Incumbent Bill Clinton cruises to a comfortable victory – the best Democratic performance since LBJ (and before that, FDR). The former Arkansas governor runs strong in the industrial northeast and the Appalachian southwest, while severely undercutting Senator Bob Dole’s margins in Republican territory. It’s a classic Democratic victory.

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Ohio, 1992 Presidential Election

It’s an exact replica of the 1996 map – except this time the Democratic strongholds are a bit less blue, the Republican strongholds a bit more red, and Ross Perot is running strong. Governor Clinton wins by a mere 1.8%.

 

 

Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. The second part can be found here.

During the ’08 campaign, the political beltway famously defined Virginia as a Republican stronghold gone Democratic. For ten straight presidential elections, the state had reliably turned up in the Republican column. President Barack Obama, however, promised to change that – and he did.

Virginia indeed is becoming bluer – but not as much as one might think. The state moved Republican sooner than the rest of the South, but never became as deep red as places like Alabama. The actual trend from ’04 to ’08 is less prominent than one might think:

I think this in fact slightly understates Republican strength. Mr. Obama, after all, fit extremely well with Virginia’s Democratic base – blacks and rich NoVa residents. He might have overperformed. In many ways, Virginia still constitutes a purple state, perhaps even a red-leaning one. Democrats must run competent candidates and/or do this in favorable national environments; if both conditions are missing, they may get pummeled ala Creigh Deeds.

This may change in the future. As its wealthy, diverse, and Democratic-leaning NoVa suburbs continue growing; Virginia may soon become more Democratic than even Pennsylvania. This trend was much noted in 2008.

What is less noted is the degree to which the media has overstated this change. These demographic shifts are the work of decades, not one election; they occur very gradually. Moreover, even as bluing NoVa expands, Virginia’s western regions continue to redden – especially the once Democratic-leaning panhandle. This blunts the NoVa effect. Virginia may be turning Democratic, but Democrats should not underestimate continued Republican strength.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. The second part can be found here.

During the ’08 campaign, the political beltway famously defined Virginia as a Republican stronghold gone Democratic. For ten straight presidential elections, the state had reliably turned up in the Republican column. President Barack Obama, however, promised to change that – and he did.

Virginia indeed is becoming bluer – but not as much as one might think. The state moved Republican sooner than the rest of the South, but never became as deep red as places like Alabama. The actual trend from ’04 to ’08 is less prominent than one might think:

I think this in fact slightly understates Republican strength. Mr. Obama, after all, fit extremely well with Virginia’s Democratic base – blacks and rich NoVa residents. He might have overperformed. In many ways, Virginia still constitutes a purple state, perhaps even a red-leaning one. Democrats must run competent candidates and/or do this in favorable national environments; if both conditions are missing, they may get pummeled ala Creigh Deeds.

This may change in the future. As its wealthy, diverse, and Democratic-leaning NoVa suburbs continue growing; Virginia may soon become more Democratic than even Pennsylvania. This trend was much noted in 2008.

What is less noted is the degree to which the media has overstated this change. These demographic shifts are the work of decades, not one election; they occur very gradually. Moreover, even as bluing NoVa expands, Virginia’s western regions continue to redden – especially the once Democratic-leaning panhandle. This blunts the NoVa effect. Virginia may be turning Democratic, but Democrats should not underestimate continued Republican strength.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

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