I’ve been busy catching up on all of the things I put off until after the election so here’s a very belated post-mortem.
Note: the vote totals are not yet final and certified, those numbers will change. The numbers shown here are for 100% of precincts reporting on election night and do not yet include any ballots counted post-election night.
The Democrats swept the three statewide races and of the three Hillary Clinton won by the largest margin, 16.5 points (compared to about 15 points for Duckworth and about 4.5 for Mendoza), and had the most total votes. Of the three Democratic candidates Clinton may have had the most paid media even if it wasn’t paid for by her campaign directly, Leading Illinois for Tomorrow (LIFT), a federal superpac, spent roughly $9 million on ads that were ostensibly designed to drive up Governor Rauner’s negatives but mostly just functioned as Trump attack ads (see here and here, for example).
In the Chicagoland region her numbers were historically strong. In Chicago she basically matched Obama’s 2012 numbers and wasn’t far off his 2008 totals. In the Cook County suburbs she was even better than Obama’s 2012 numbers and far ahead of Kerry 2004 and Gore 2000. She won the collars outright and again bested Obama 2012, Kerry 2004 and Gore 2000.
The Trump Vote
Outside the Chicagoland area it was a different story. Trump won the 90 counties outside the Chicago media market roughly 57-37, some in historically commanding fashion. Looking at the vote totals by media market what’s strange is that down the middle Trump’s numbers were downright ordinary. In the Rockford, Peoria and Champaign/Springfield/Decatur media markets his vote totals were very similar to Romney 2012 and all lagged Bush 2004 and espeically Rauner 2014. Yet in the remaining media markets Trump’s numbers blew away the other Republican presidential candidates this century and either rivaled or surpassed Rauner’s 2014 numbers. Remember, Rauner won the state by 4 points (with very impressive downstate numbers) and Trump lost it by more than 16 so to rival or surpass Rauner’s performance in these areas was no small feat for Trump.
We have good data on total media buy spending for each campaign but the data I wish I really had but don’t is the spending for each campaign media buy by media market. I can tell you from my past experience working on statewide campaigns when we went up on TV the first markets we bought downstate were the three down the middle (Rockford, Peoria and Champaign/Springfield/Decatur) because they are entirely within the state so those buys/markets were more efficient than the rest which include viewers in other states. I suspect the reason that Trump’s numbers down the middle were so pedestrian has to do with media buys. If we had the LIFT spending by media market perhaps we’d find that the bulk of their spending was in Chicago and these three downstate media markets while neglecting the rest, or perhaps some other media buy explanation holds the key, but I’d bet the reason has to do with paid advertising.
Here’s what I wrote in my What to Watch For post on election day:
Downstate – In 2010 the downstate 96 counties were especially strong for the Republicans. Kirk and Brady both got 59% of the vote. The Democrats rebounded in 2012, Romney only got about 53% of the vote there, but the Republicans came back strong in 2014 when Rauner took 61%. Can Kirk replicate the downstate Republican performance of 2010 and 2014 or will the Democrats improve as they did in 2012?
Suburbs (especially the northern ones) – in 2010 Kirk won his race by about a point and a half and Brady lost to Quinn by about half a point. Most of the difference came in the Cook County suburbs and the collars and most of that difference came in the northern end. Kirk had represented the north shore in Congress and those voters rewarded him in his Senate race. Kirk did about three and a half points better than Brady in the 5 traditional collar counties combined but it was even more pronounced in Lake County where the difference was six and a half points (56.6% to 50.1%). He’s going to need to run just as strong in Lake County again to help his chances.
Kirk just couldn’t match his 2010 performance this time around, he even lost his stronghold of Lake County 50-45 and the bottom fell out just about everywhere. He did about 7 points worse downstate, 10 points worse in the Cook County suburbs and 11 points worse in the collars.
Susana Mendoza scored an impressive victory against a much better funded incumbent which may add a new variable to an otherwise unchanging Springfield budget battle, but it’s worth noting that while losing Leslie Munger still outperformed the top of her ticket by about 12 points.
For all the talk of how impressive Trump’s downstate numbers were (see above from me for example) Munger actually matched his performance in the downstate 96 counties. It was in the Chicagoland area that she did notably better than the top of her ticket, she ran 7 points better than Trump in Chicago, 9 points better in the Cook County suburbs and 10 points better in the collars. But in the end it wasn’t enough, you can see that she just wasn’t able to approach the numbers of Rauner’s winning 2014 coalition.
Illinois Legislative Elections
In 2014 both Rauner and Topinka won by about 4 points and in the process Rauner got more votes than Quinn in 70 state house districts while Topinka got more votes than Simon in 69 state house districts. Tom Cross lost to Mike Frerichs by about a quarter of a point and still managed to get the most votes in 64 state house districts, even Jim Oberweis won 51 state house districts while losing to Dick Durbin by 10 points yet the House Republicans only held 47 seats.
Clearly in 2014 the House Republicans significantly underperformed their available political potential. With a massive investment of financial resources from the Governor and his wealthy allies the Republicans appeared poised to pick up a number of seats and move closer to realizing their potential. The open question was just how many, afterall 2014 was a national wave election for Republicans while 2016 was a mixed bag nationally and a strong Democratic year for Illinois statewide candidates. In the end the Republicans won 7 races and lost one. Some were low hanging fruit, they picked up retiring Sen. Sullivan’s seat uncontested, they also won the seats previously held by Sen. Forby, Rep. Franks and Rep. Bradley, all seats that Rauner had won by more than 30 points just two years ago. They picked up Kate Cloonen’s seat, she had won her last two races by 91 and 122 total votes, and this time around the Republicans had enough resources to make the difference winning by more than 7 points. Two years ago Jerry Long came within a point of upsetting Frank Mautino and this time around Long was able to beat his appointed replacement, Andy Skoog, by about a point. And the most impressive pickup came in northwest Illinois where Tony McCombie beat Mike Smiddy by about 25 points in a district Rauner only won by 14.
The end result was a net Republican pickup of 4 seats in the house reducing the Democratic majority to 67-51 and 2 in the senate reducing the Democratic majority to 37-22, which is still a supermajority in the senate.
The most impressive legislative victory wasn’t a pickup, it was in the 20th House where Mike McAuliffe retained his seat by 12 points against a strong challenge from Merry Marwig. The spending in this race was unprecedented, McAuliffe was up on Chicago broadcast television in late August, unheard of for a state house race. It was an expensive retention but the margin was significant. McAuliffe actually did about 4.5 points better in the Chicago part of the district than the suburban part. And then there’s this, these are the two precincts in Rosemont:
That’s almost 600 votes of margin in just two precincts.
The other impressive retention happened on the Democratic side in the senate where Tom Cullerton appears to have narrowly retained his seat despite a heavy challenge from Seth Lewis. It wasn’t that long ago that suggesting Democrats could compete in DuPage County would get you laughed out of the room yet both Tom Cullerton in the Senate and Deb Conroy in the House have been able to win seats in this Republican stronghold and retain them.
Democrats had an impressive pickup as well beating Dwight Kay in the Metro East. Katie Stuart managed to upset the incumbent in this Madison County district despite the fact that Trump won the county by 16 points and incumbent Democratic County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan was defeated.
Take a look at this map of four state house districts under the previous map (2002-2011):
In the upper right district that goes from Effingham to Carmi it was once represented by Chuck Hartke, the district just west of that that includes Centralia and Mt. Vernon was once represented by Kurt Granberg. Just south of Granberg is John Bradley’s district and just south of him is Brandon Phelps district. Once the Democrats lost the Hartke and Granberg districts those districts stayed Republican, the current map changed those two districts a bit but the Democrats don’t really compete there anymore. The Bradley and Phelps districts are basically the same as the previous map but they have been trying to hang on in the face of this evolution taking place in southern Illinois. In 1994 when Jim Edgar beat Dawn Clark Netsch she lost all but one county and it wasn’t Cook, it was Gallatin County in Southern Illinois. This year Trump won Gallatin county 72-24.
(For more on the changing political dynamic in both southern Illinois and the suburbs check out Charlie Wheeler’s take in Illinois Issues.)
This cycle the Republicans beat John Bradley and Gary Forby (Forby’s senate district is the combination of Bradley and Phelps). Rauner won all three of these districts by more than 30 points two years ago. Phelps managed to win his seat by about 16 points but the trend suggests that his district will be a target in future cycles. Not shown in the picture above but just to the west of these districts is the seat held by Jerry Costello Jr., a district that Rauner also won by more than 30 points. Costello was unopposed this cycle and was unopposed in 2014. Southern Illinois will be worth keeping an eye on in 2018.
Of the five traditional collar counties only McHenry County remains reliably Republican in presidential election years (and even the McHenry County Board Chairman’s race went Democratic this year when Jack Franks won it). Clinton, Duckworth, Obama 2012 and Obama 2008 all won DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will. As Charlie Wheeler pointed out in the article I linked to above the base of the Illinois Republican party is moving from the suburbs to downstate.
This cycle had two large infusions of cash. In the 114th House outspoken Republican candidate Bob Romanik loaned his campaign $2 million and he promised to use those funds to both win the E. St. Louis-based state house seat and to help other local candidates upend the local power dynamic. Despite those assertions it doesn’t appear that Romanik pulled the trigger on that spending, he lost his house race by about 14 points and no other candidates reported receiving donations from him (traditional or in-kind) and he didn’t report making any independent expenditures. For more background on Romanik scroll down to the St. Clair county section here.
The other large infusion of cash came on New Year’s Eve 2014 when Bruce Rauner replenished his depleted campaign fund with $20 million and promised to spend that money to help his legislative allies who stuck with him on tough votes. As I pointed out back in August he kept that promise.
End of Campaign Finance Limits
Last, Illinois campaign contribution limits are now functionally dead. The laws remain on the books and the campaigns and committees will still have to take the legal steps to circumvent them but the participants are no longer trying to abide by the spirit of the law and with that damn now broke the limits are now just a nuisance rather than a deterrent. Even for proponents of campaign contribution limits lifting the limits wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, that’s what evened the playing field when either significant outside money or candidate personal/family funds entered the race. However limit proponents had hoped that public shaming would prevent committees from lifting the limits solely for the sake of lifting them, but that’s exactly what happened and there was no public outcry. Meanwhile the Democrats learned how to circumvent the limits without having to lift them, creating numerous entryways by co-opting a significant number of the candidate committees in their caucus and then moving the money around as needed.
I remain skeptical that while Supreme Court rulings enabling unlimited personal spending and unlimited outside uncoordinated spending are the law of the land Illinois can enact campaign contribution limits that are both effective and fair but for this next cycle it’s probably a moot point. We’re unlikely to see any significant changes to campaign finance law, what changes are there that a) the Democrats would want to have pass both chambers and b) that the Governor would want to sign that would effectively limit the resources each wants and needs to fight the other in this upcoming election?