Bruce Rauner recently announced that he is going to spend the remainder of the race campaigning in and around the Chicago area. There is some decent logic behind this strategy, it has long been the conventional wisdom that Bill Brady lost the 2010 Governor’s race in the suburbs, and the numbers back that up. Take a look at the table below that shows the performance of Brady (Governor, lost) and Mark Kirk (US Senate, won) in their 2010 respective races by region (expanded collars).
General Election Republican Performance – Expanded Collars (FAQ)
|Region||2010 Kirk||2010 Brady||Difference||Vote Share|
|Cook County (all)||31.63%||28.61%||3.02%||37.51%|
|___Cook Burbs (only)||43.47%||39.50%||3.97%||19.02%|
The expanded collars table groups “downstate” as the 90 counties outside the Chicago media market. You can see that in 2010 it made up a little more than 34% of the vote and the performance of Brady and Kirk is nearly identical, even though Brady is considered to be from the conservative wing of the Republican party while Kirk is less so. Even though Brady is from McLean County and Kirk is from the Chicago suburbrs, the voters in these downstate counties rated them equally and their performance was essentially the same.
The biggest difference was in the Chicago media market. The difference between the two candidates in the Chicago suburbs was about 4% but it varied by township. The difference was most pronounced in the affluent north and western suburban townships:
|Township||2010 Kirk||2010 Brady||Difference|
In the 11 counties in the Chicago media market other than Cook County (collectively referred to here as the Collars) the difference between Kirk and Brady was about 3 and a half points with the Lake County numbers the most pronounced:
|County||2010 Kirk||2010 Brady||Difference|
If the Rauner campaign can win over the Kirk-Quinn voters from 2010 they could have enough votes to win the election and since all of those Kirk-Quinn voters from 2010 are in the Chicago media market it makes sense for them to focus their campaign there now that we have reached the home stretch.
But what about Pat Quinn and the other candidates? 2010 was a strange year for Democratic performance downstate in that it was abnormally low. Take a look at the table below showing the Democratic performance of the candidates in competitive contested elections over the last few decades in the downstate counties outside of the Chicago media market:
In 2010 Pat Quinn, Alexi Giannoulias and Robin Kelly all performed worse than Carol Moseley-Braun did in 1998 outside the Chicago media market, and she was carrying a lot of baggage by then while unsuccessfully trying to fend off a well funded challenger. On this list only Dawn Clark Netsch performed worse than the competitive Democratic candidates of 2010 and she lost in a blowout by 30 points. In 2002 Tom Dart lost his race for Treasurer to the popular Topinka and in 2006 the Republicans actively campaigned against Blagojevich in their legislative campaigns tying the local Democratic candidates to the unpopular downstate incumbent governor, yet both of those candidates performed more than 5 points higher than Quinn and Giannoulias in the 90 counties outside of the Chicago media market.
They weren’t just losing, they were losing downstate counties that had a history of going to Democrats like Madison, Fulton and Franklin by almost 20 points:
The downstate numbers for the Democratic candidates in 2010 weren’t just bad, they were historically bad. So the question becomes, was this a once cycle free fall or the new normal?
One simple answer is that by 2012 Barack Obama was back up to 45.11% in the downstate 90 counties. As I mentioned before some of those numbers were probably helped in the Quad Cities by Iowa advertising, take a look at the map of Obama’s performance by county and you can see that his numbers in the Quad Cities media market are noticeably better than his performance in the surrounding areas. But either way, one cycle later and those numbers bounced back to a historical norm.
The Presidential race was the only statewide race in 2012 but the Democrats performed strongly in a bunch of targeted State Senate races as well. First time candidate Andy Manar won the 48th Senate District (1D, 1R House members) by more than 10 points in a central Illinois district that stretches from Springfield to Decatur and down to eastern Madison County. (you can view district maps here) In the 36th SD (2D House members) up near the Quad Cities Mike Jacobs won re-election by more than 9 points. In the 46th SD (1D, 1R House memebers) in the Peoria area Dave Koehler won re-election by more than 8 points. In the 47th SD (2R House members) that runs from Quincy to Galesburg to almost Springfield John Sullivan was re-elected by almost 13 points. In the Metro East’s 56th SD (1D, 1R House members) Bill Haine won by more than 17 points. And in deep southern Illinois’ 59th SD (2D House members) perennial target Gary Forby won by more than 18 points.
The historically low downstate numbers for the Democrats in 2010 didn’t carry over into the 2012 races. What can we expect in 2014 though? It’s not a presidential year so the electorate will be smaller and more Republican leaning than in presidential years. Also Illinois native and favorite son Obama will not be at the top of the ticket, instead it will be Dick Durbin in what looks to be a pretty safe race and then Pat Quinn who remains unpopular downstate, even among his own party.
In 2014 the Governor’s race was the only statewide primary race on the Democratic side to feature more than one candidate. Pat Quinn faced off against little known candidate Tio Hardiman, the former executive director of Cease Fire. Hardiman had lost his job at Cease Fire after his wife filed a domestic violence case against him, later withdrawn. Prior to running Hardiman also had a different guilty plea to a misdemeanor for domestic violence against a former wife expunged from his record.
You would not expect that a Chicago former executive director of Cease Fire with a history of domestic violence to become the preferred candidate of downstate Democrats but in the 2014 Democratic primary for Governor that is what happened. In this case it likely had less to do with people voting for Hardiman and more likely these votes were cast against Quinn in protest.
First take a look at the map of Hardiman’s performance in the City of Chicago, it’s very consistent with no wards above 30%. Next look at his performance map in the Cook County suburbs, again the same consistency with no townships above 30%. Then look at his county by county performance map, the difference jumps out at you, especially in southern Illinois. Hardiman won Marion county with more than 72% of the vote. In 6 other counties (Alexander, Clinton, Jefferson, Shelby, Union and Washington) he took more than 60% of the vote. The southern half of the map is littered with counties painted shades of blue, green or grey for Hardiman. Once you get outside of Cook and the traditional 5 collar counties everything is over 30%.
It may have been true that 2010 was a historically poor year for Democrats downstate that won’t automatically translate to a repeat performance for Democrats this cycle but it’s also true that Quinn is facing a popularity issue this cycle with downstate members of his own party. If he’s that unpopular among Democrats it’s likely to be true of downstate independents as well.
There is natural room for vote growth for Quinn in his downstate numbers. Even if he can only muster being as popular as Blagojevich was during his 2006 re-elect that would still improve his downstate numbers by about 5 points and a 5 point improvement downstate would translate to about 60,000 votes his way (and 60,000 away from his opponent) based on 2010 numbers. The mid 40’s looks to be about the sweet spot for a typical Democratic candidate in a contested, competitive election, a far cry from the 34% Quinn took in 2010, but if he could somehow increase his downstate performance by 10 points it would be worth 120,000 votes his way (and 120,000 away from his opponent). In 2010 the race was decided by about 30,000 votes so these are meaningful numbers.
But in order to do that he’s going to have to campaign hard there and win over voters that were clearly very angry with him back in March. Unlike Rauner who will focus like a laser on the City and suburbs, Quinn’s path to victory likely includes a significant downstate component.
And what about the downstate Democratic candidates for Treasurer and Comptroller Mike Frerichs and Shelia Simon? Both are native downstaters who can likely count on above average support from the area. But if they’re looking at the very visible Quinn anger displayed in the primary can they afford to risk being lumped in with Quinn downstate if his numbers don’t improve? I am sure they would like to have the luxury to count on longstanding downstate support so they could focus their time and money on the Chicago media market but if Quinn’s downstate numbers don’t improve is that a risk they can afford to take? The Democrats have three downstate candidates on their statewide slate this year, Durbin, Simon and Frerichs, a more favorable downstate slate over recent cycles. They should be well positioned to rebound in their downstate performance but it will be interesting to see how the whole ticket performs and where the candidates and their campaigns spend their time and money to capitalize on the geographic makeup of their statewide ticket.