Sunday, February 20, 2005

What's the matter with Kansas or what's right with Illinois?

I just returned from the DuPage Democrats dinner where I met fellow blogger and Naperville Township Dem Committeeman Rick Klau. One piece of Illinois trivia that I didn't know: there is a Democratic state senator with part of DuPage in the district. Give up? Don Harmon has about 10 precincts in DuPage. The keynoter was David Wilhelm and he led with this interesting frame. In most of the country, the GOP playbook is cultural wedge issues: gays, guns and abortion. Identify with the electorate on those cultural issues, define the Dem as alien based on some or all of the wedge issues and coast to a majority. Probably throw race in there too. That worls for the Republicans in a lot of places where the federal GOP agenda of enriching the wealthy and choosing Corporate America over workers and consumers wouldn't be enough to earn support - but the cultural wedge issues do. Thomas Frank (a former Chicago guy) wrote a good book on the topic titled What's The Matter With Kansas. Wilhelm pointed out that the playbook doesn't work here. In the Chicago suburbs, gay-bashing just doesn't play. Look at state rep Joe Dunn's vote for extending civil rights in employment and housing to gays as an example. He represents Naperville - a GOP stronghold - but the anti-gay stuff doesn't resonate. So Illinois is an example of a healthier electorate. Maybe it's because we are better educated or farther north. Whatever the reason, the Dems in other states should be studying us to see what we are doing right.

16 comments:

Carl Nyberg said...

Dan, my bro's blog has a link to a WP article on people that ran for Prez. I made some comments about JBA, but you might add some stuff too.

See Yin Yang.

FightforJustice said...

The difference between IL and KS that makes one state blue and the other red is the Cook County Democrat Machine. Bush won the state outside of Cook.

Vasyl said...

fightforjustice: I think it's simplistic to say that Illinois is a "blue" state just because of Cook County. Admittedly, Cook provides a big margin for Democratic candidates; but Cook always provided a big D vote, even when Republicans were winning statewide.

The difference is that DuPage, Lake, Will, and even Winnebago counties can no longer make up for the difference, despite their population growth. The GOP could reliably carry collar counties with over 60% of the vote as recently as ten years ago. In 2004, Bush carried Lake county by less than 5,00 votes; Winnebago was a virtual tie, decided by 1,000 votes in Bush's favor. Even GOP-vote rich DuPage County could provide a Bush margin of under 39,000 votes -- Bush got under 55% there.

The reason Illinois turned so blue is that Democrats can now easily get 40% or more of the DuPage vote. And that makes Dan's observations relevant.

Roy said...

Well, if the Dems want to study why they have so much success in IL, I think they should study George Ryan before Joe Dunn.
Also, I would contest your gross over-simplification of both the GOP campaign and the USA population. Even in blue states the referendum on gay marriage didn't pass. Your one-to-one correspondance b/t the culturally conservative majority and Republican voters doesn't stand up.

Amy Allen said...

I'm guessing "David Wilhelm" isn't AJ Wilhelmi's brother.Because A J Wilhelmi does have a brother who is active in Democratic politics.

N. Y. Krause said...

Just off the top of my head, is the cause of the pinkization of the collar counties perhaps population outflow from Chicago to the 'burbs? Maybe moving into the city has more effect on one's voting habits, while those who relocate outward retain their previous affiliations? Or is it simply that more people move from the the city to the suburbs, with the excess suburbians moving to other states?

FightforJustice said...

Vasyl, it's true that the collars aren't as Republican as they used to be. The most significant change, however, is the Cook County suburbs. Until the 1990s, the burbs were reliably Republican. Now the Democrat majority gets larger every election. When you combine the landslide in Chicago with the near-landslide in suburban Cook, Republicans face an insurmountable mountain of D votes. Bush lost the county of Cook by 800,000 votes, and lost the state by 500,000.

Anonymous said...

DJW,
When are you going to drop the Obama blog and the Progressive Illinois blog from your list? They haven't been active for months. Publish or perish.

Rick Klau said...

Dan - it was great meeting you Sunday night!

I think Vasyl's right - so long as we grow our base in DuPage from the historically-low 35% to 40-45%, the Republicans will have an increasingly hard time doing anything state-wide. We are the second largest collection of Democrats in the state (behind Cook County), and we're growing. As David pointed out Sunday night, 70,000 more DuPage residents voted for Barack than voted for President Bush.

Clinton got just under 20% of the vote in 1992 in DuPage. Kerry got 45% (and in some townships, like Naperville, was nearly 48%). I think it's likely we'll continue to hold our 40+% base, but I also think we're close to taking a few local and county-wide seats. 2006 ought to be very interesting.

Vasyl said...

I'll concede fightforjustice's point that not only has the GOP margin dropped in the collars, the Cook Suburbs have switched from GOP to Dem.

Illinois turned blue because the Republicans could not hold on to the suburbs. Marginal gains in downstate, particularly southern Illinois, cannot match the spectacular loss of votes in the burbs.

Dan presents, I think, a reasonable case that the socially conservative tint of the national GOP is not playing well in the Chicago suburbs.

The first campaign that made really targeted the suburbs was Durbin's 1996 Senate race. (Full disclosure: I was a paid staffer on that campaign.) Al Salvi -- running as a 1994-Contract-with-America-conservative -- ended up the surprise winner of the GOP primary. As a result, that Senate race was fought on the hot-button issues of abortion and guns, with gay rights making an occasional cameo appearance.

The target audience (for Durbin, at least) was soccer moms, and he won them over big. Since then, it's been fairly easy for Democrats to win 40%+ of the DuPage vote. And, as Rick points out, the GOP can't win in Illinois without getting 60%+ in DuPage. (Conversely, Dems can't win without a 500,000 vote margin coming out of Cook.)

The comparison with Kansas really doesn't cut it, because the areas of Illinois that look like Kansas pretty much vote like Kansas. The more interesting comparison is with Ohio, where the Democrats are perpetually struggling. (More disclosure: I worked on the 1998 Dem Gubernatorial campaign in Ohio.)

The difference between Ohio and Illinois is that Illinois Democrats (i.e., Durbin) took on the social conservatives early and directly. In Ohio, both parties avoided addressing the hot button issues. Thus, the social conservatives were able to take advantage of their already established networks to turn out the vote, without a spirited debate on choice, guns, and other social issues.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Hi all -- Anon, thanks for the link clean-up tip. I'm not sure if we can credit the Illinois burbs voting D versus the Ohio burbs voting R with the Durbin campaign's wisdom. I suspect (and just a hunch) that people here are just more tolerant than people over there. And FightFor -- the Cook County vote is largely independent of the patronage-driven machines in a presidential race. I think the 'Machine's' ability to turn out the vote is more reputation than reality (except in a few wards).

Lazerlou said...

Eventually we are all going to have to distinguish between shades of red. Secular upper middle class and wealthy red, and then rural uneducated sectarian red. Most of the secular types I know don't hate gays, they just want to keep their money and not be forced to share it with the poor. The setrians hate gays, and are happy to share their money with the poor. I cna't wait till the republican party is forced to deal with this. Bush is skating on thin ice here.

IlliniPundit said...

Sorry to threadjack, but when I saw this headline this morning, I couldn't help but think about basketball. :-)

Anonymous said...

GOP PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT... Dan wrote: "The GOP playbook is cultural wedge issues: gays, guns and abortion. Identify with the electorate on those cultural issues, define the Dems as alien based on some or all of the wedge issues and coast to a majority." All true, but what about national defense? If you can't even mention it on your Dem-friendly blog, or if it didn't even occur to you, then you guys are going to continue to LOSE elections. - CF

Vasyl said...

CF -- perhaps defense was not mentioned as a wedge issue because it's not a wedge issue. Democrats believe in a strong defense. In fact, historically Democratic presidents have been pretty good about defense policy. Remember all those weapons Kerry was accused of voting against? Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense who wanted to eliminate those weapons programs.

The wedge issues like gay rights, abortion, and guns are wedge issues because people emotionally choose one side or the other. Defense policy, on the other hand, has only side: a strong US defense. The argument is over which party will provide it.

Lazerlou said...

I believe it was a Republican President who said the following sometime in the early 1960s. [This Dem does not like spending 490 Billion dollars a year on guns and bombs and missle defense. Either did Paul Wellstone. He was a Dem too. Either did Paul Simon]

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.