POLITICS: Campaigns

Further observations on the Illinois primary

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Illinois,Chicago,Campaigns,Bruce Rauner

Looking into the Illinois primary returns this morning, I noticed a similarity between the Republican primary for governor this year and the Republican primary for president in 2012. In both cases, the candidate who carried metro Chicago (which I define as Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties) won, but that candidate also ran behind in Downstate Illinois (the other 95 counties). Bruce Rauner carried metro Chicago 49 to 35 percent and lost Downstate by 30 to 40 percent to Kirk Dillard, which yielded a narrow 40 to 37 percent statewide victory for Rauner (these percentages are based on 98 percent of returns and so may be off by 1 point). In 2012, Mitt Romney carried metro Chicago 54 to 29 percent for Rick Santorum, but lost Downstate by 38 to 42 percent, for a 47 to 35 percent statewide victory for Romney.

Republican primary voters in metro areas tend to be upscale; downscale voters there tend to vote in Democratic primaries -- a pattern we saw in 2012 in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Illinois. Republican primary voters in Downstate Illinois -- traditionally Republican territory -- tend to be more downscale. In 2012, upscale metro voters preferred Romney, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., while Downstaters preferred the religious conservative Santorum who had won blue collar votes in Pennsylvania in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 2000. In 2014, Rauner campaigned as a foe of the public employee unions, whose pensions have put Illinois's fiscal condition in parlous territory; while Dillard, though from the upscale suburb of Hinsdale, took a more mild stand toward them--and was the beneficiary of some late anti-Rauner ads by the public employee unions. Upscale voters are evidently ready to sock it to the unions; downscale voters, apparently, are not so sure.

Democrats can hope that Rauner will prove unappealing in the general election against Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in Downstate Illinois. But Quinn is weak there too: In 2010 he lost Downstate by a 34 to 59 percent margin to Downstate Republican legislator Bill Brady, while carrying metro Chicago 54 to 38 percent -- enough for a knuckle-chewing 47 to 46 percent statewide win. Quinn carried only 4 of Illinois's 102 counties: Cook, by the far the largest; St. Clair, which includes East St. Louis; Jackson, which contains Southern Illinois University; and Alexander, which includes the poverty-stricken town of Cairo at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Quinn showed weakness Downstate in this year's primary as well: he beat a little-known opponent statewide by 72 to 28 percent, but ran well under 72 percent in many Downstate counties.

Nor is President Obama likely to help Quinn much in Downstate Illinois. Obama carried metro Chicago 65 to 34 percent in 2012, for an easy 57 to 41 percent statewide win. But Mitt Romney, despite his weakness Downstate in the primary, carried Downstate 53 to 45 percent--a reversal of 2008, when Obama carried the Downstate counties. Which is at least a precedent for the proposition that a rich Republican with little Downstate primary appeal can nonetheless prevail in Downstate in a general election.

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