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Quinn’s Downstate performance becomes a factor

Monday, Nov 29, 2010 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My syndicated newspaper column

One of the consequences of Gov. Pat Quinn’s laser-like focus on Chicago and Cook County during this fall’s campaign is that he won just 20-22 of the state’s 59 Senate districts, according to recent estimates by the Illinois Senate Democrats. That’s not even close to half.

There’s been plenty of hand wringing in the Downstate media about the fact that Quinn only won three counties in their region, which comprises the vast majority of the state’s geography. That’s mostly illegitimate as far as statewide races go. A win’s a win. Period.

But it is legitimate to look at the totals when it comes to legislative districts. The lack of public support in a majority of districts can have a major impact on the coming legislative session, especially since Quinn lost quite a few Democratic-held districts by wide margins.

For instance, Quinn lost all but one of the 13 tiny counties that make up Sen. Gary Forby’s district by a total of about 14,000 votes. Forby voted for a tax increase last year. It’s no wonder why Forby says he’s not thrilled about a repeat performance.

It was like that all over Downstate Illinois. Pat Quinn can’t be blamed for all of it, of course. The national trend, anger over Statehouse mismanagement, and the resulting heightened GOP voter interest played a role throughout Downstate and in the suburbs outside Cook.

Democratic Rep. Dan Reitz was up against a guy who barely spent a dime. Reitz walked precincts constantly, spent more than he has in years, and beat his Republican opponent with just 56 percent of the vote. Reitz says he firmly believes that if the House Republicans had targeted him, he would’ve been a goner.

Legislative Democrats as a whole withstood the national GOP wave because the Republicans spent so much time and effort on suburban Cook County. The House and Senate Democrats lost every seriously contested Downstate race outside of Will and Kankakee counties.

The overall Downstate trend in the GOP’s favor was very intense. Bond County Republicans gained control of the county board for the first time in two decades. Christian County Republicans won the sheriff’s office for the first time in 80 years. Republican Ed Motley became the first African-American elected to an Edgar County office and the first black GOP sheriff in the state’s history. Republicans took 7 out of 7 county board seats up for election in Grundy County and seized control of the board. Madison County Republicans won two countywide offices, which is the first time since 1946 they’ve done such a thing. Marion County hasn’t had a Republican county clerk in over 30 years, and Saline hasn’t had one in 60 years. They both have one now. Peoria County elected three new GOP board members. Winnebago Republicans went from a 15-13 county board majority to a 20-8 majority.

Pretty much all of Downstate has become for the Democrats what suburban Cook County has long been for legislative Republicans: A killing field. While President Obama will do wonders for the Democrats in two years in Cook County, he will likely remain unpopular throughout Downstate unless the economy really turns around. The future is definitely not bright for Downstate Democrats.

And with redistricting coming up and the trend of Downstate counties losing population likely to continue, every legislator from that region will have to take on new territory to balance out the districts. New voters mean legislators will have to start from scratch with them. Voters who know you might give you a pass when the going gets tough. Those who don’t know you won’t.

Fortunately for Gov. Quinn, several Downstate legislators are nearing the end of their careers. A job here, a contract there and he might be able to line up the votes over the coming weeks and months to enact at least some of his agenda.

But for those who are running again after the new legislative map is drawn, there’s not a whole lot the governor can do except to promise even more pork projects and pledge to support their bills. Most legislators understand that some really tough votes are needed, including a tax hike and big budget cuts. But after this last election, it’s understandable that they won’t be eagerly lining up to commit political suicide for a guy who is so terribly unpopular back home.



  1. - truthteller - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 6:18 am:

    Your column ignores the fact that only one Dem Senator who voted to raise the income tax to 5% lost as did one who voted against it. Wilhelmi, Hutchison, and Noland beat back strong challenges.

    House members who lost , with one exception , were against an income tax hike.
    Clearly, something other than taxes was at play. Something is going on here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.

  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 6:22 am:

    What I do know is that people who think they are a “truthteller” usually have no clue what truth is. lol

    Go talk to some of those people who voted for a tax hike last year and hear what they say now instead of just looking at numbers on a piece of paper.

  3. - VanillaMan - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 7:52 am:

    What was a trial separation is now a divorse. Rural Illinois has filed their papers and decided that they would rather live in a trailer than Section 8 housing. What constituted progressive government over the past generation has been rejected by non-Chicagoans. While many traditional liberals will continue to mock those in disagreement with them, their catcalls no longer carry a stigma. Post mass media no longer corrals. Progressive government as defined by traditional liberals has been thrown out across non-Chicago.

    As long as economic success is found in new government DEcentralized markets in red states, traditional liberal Chicago will become increasingly isolated. This may help the Loop in the short run, in the long run Chicago will lose now that Illinois has turned its back and has chosen to look elsewhere for leadership.

  4. - shore - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 8:42 am:

    Politico ran a story on sunday about how democratic state legislators in the rural south were basically annihliated in this wave election. What’s happening to rural democrats under obama which is what happened to metropolitan republicans like (almost) kirk during the bush years-the party’s movement to the extreme evaporated their ability to call themselves independents.

    In the same way republicans have to find ways to connect better with the northbrooks and wilmettes of the world, democrats have to find ways to connect better in rural areas and there are example of that in places like virginia with jim webb, montana, with senator tester ect.

  5. - Bill - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 9:07 am:

    Forby and Reitz will fall in line like they always do when they are promised a little pork. If they and their southern colleagues don’t they will have to endure the severe budget cuts that will result from the repubs refusal to cooperate on any type of revenue enhancement. Who will get hurt worse, Gary? Us liberals up here where most of the money comes from or you conservatives down there where most of the money goes? Think about it.

  6. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 9:18 am:

    Paul Simon and Alan Dixon used to carry a lot of water for the state Dems at the top of the ticket Downstate. When and if Jesse White ever retires, the state apparatus would be wise to attempt to push a Downstater through the primary for that highly visible office.

    –As long as economic success is found in new government DEcentralized markets in red states,–

    That’s a curious statement. Where has state government in Illinois centralized markets? What state governments have decentralized previously centralized markets? Does that statement have any meaning whatsoever outside of Fox fever dreams?

  7. - cassandra - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 9:32 am:

    I think Bill is right. The world, including Illinois, is urbanizing and I believe that increasingly, rural economies will depend disproportionately on government spending, including for government institutions.

    I spend a fair amount of time driving through rural parts of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin to visit relatives. In many little towns there is no downtown to speak of, the housing stock is crumbling, and the shiny new building is….the welfare office, the state police office, the library, and so on. When the local state prison is closed (not much hope of that in Illinois under Quinn) the town economy really feels it. The kids who go to college never come back.

    Like other major social trends such as the aging of populations in developed countries, this one
    is having a big, if rather silent impact on our econnomic and political lives. I’m not sure that the solution is to raise state taxes on middle class urban workers to sustain economically failing rural areas though.

  8. - Louis Howe - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 9:53 am:

    It’s still the economy, stupid. The loss of good paying manufacturing jobs has devastated communities throughout the mid-west, especially in rural areas. And rural areas are especially impacted because, unlike urban communities, the other options, like Wal-mart, aren’t paying union scale. Here’s a great new book, Winner-Take-All—How Washington made the Rich Richer-and Turned its Back on the Middle Class.

    If democrats think they can be a national party with the urban minority vote while shifting the white middle class, Obama may be the first black president, but he’ll be the last democratic president for generations to come.

  9. - Fed up - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 10:08 am:

    Bill and Cassandra

    You need to remeber the fastest growing parts of Ill. are Will, Lake Kane and the collar counties how did Quinn do in those. How did those congressional elections go? This is where more state reps will becoming from not Crook Co.

  10. - D.P. Gumby - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 10:15 am:

    This is a variation on “What’s the Matter w/ Kansas?” only the propaganda has shifted from Republicans conning the voters w/ social issues to the corporate mouthpieces (Dick Armey, Karl Rove, et al) conning the voters by latching onto the t-baggers. Taking advantage of and fanning fear caused by the financial distress, the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin, Huey Long, etc., Faux News, Rush, Beck and others have a greater megaphone to move votes that didn’t exist before. As long as people like Sarah Palin are considered credible political commentators, the march of the 21st Century Know Nothings will continue.

  11. - just sayin' - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 11:19 am:

    Very good column.

    But I do think we have to be careful about reading too much into this year. It was a unique year and most everything was driven by the national trends. A lot of tea party types convinced themselves that voting straight R was the best way to send a message to the black president that he better stop turning America into a socialist country. But even so, it was on balance still a very disappointing year for the GOP in Illinois.

    Between redistricting and Obama on the ballot in 2 years, 2012 will be a bloodbath for the GOP in Illinois. Let’s not kid ourselves.

  12. - bored now - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 11:39 am:

    Louis Howe: yes, it is “still the economy, stupid,” but that has absolutely nothing to do with rich’s column. rural voters are far less likely to vote their wallets. republicans have nothing to offer rural communities economically; their ties to the gop are historical (and, to an extent, values-based), not economic.

    your other point shows a lack of historical context. the urban/rural divide where democrats dominate urban centers and republicans dominate rural regions is not only long-standing, it’s well understood. both democrats and republicans understand that elections are won in the suburbs, and both have well-worn strategies for competing in the suburbs that i would have said were widely known. the fact that rural communities are dying off decade after decade makes it more difficult for republicans in the future, not democrats. rural communities tend to do very well dollar-wise from governments at all levels, despite their faux-demand that everybody (else) be self-sufficient. they aren’t likely to be less demanding for government dollars in the future, and they may even get wise to the hypocrisy of their political demands and feigned beliefs…

  13. - NW Illinois - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:05 pm:

    Downstate Democrats have to get their act together with a set of issues and a platform and then take it to the voters. Cook County Democrats, who want to win statewide, had better create real leadership opportunities for downstaters the way they did for Simon, Dixon, Durbin, etc. Do Democrats want a Chicago party or a statewide party? That is the real question.

  14. - cassandra - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:06 pm:


    Those outlying areas are still part of urbanization.

    But that still leaves the problem of rural areas being extremely dependent on government expenditures in order to survive economically.
    It’s not just public employee unions who want middle class taxpayers to pay proportionately more so (union members) can retain their extraordinary benefits. Rural dwellers will increasingly resist loss of government services and jobs even if it doesn’t make economic or social policy sense to keep those jobs and other social expenditures at the same level. By voting to increase taxes and retain unnecessary governmental expenses they’ll be voting for their economic survival. And they know it. Read the papers in any little town that is about to lose a juvenile prison or a welfare office. It’s viewed as devastating.

  15. - just sayin' - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:40 pm:

    Look at how well Durbin and Obama did statewide before using this unique year to over generalize.

    I think Durbin only lost like 4 counties in his last election. Obama won many downstate counties too, over a war hero.

    It’s the GOP that is in trouble in Illinois, not the Dems. Further proof is the fact that in this national wave election year, Republican pick-ups were very small in IL. After having lost so much ground in recent elections, the GOP should have won a lot more this year. After remap it really gets ugly.

  16. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:41 pm:

    I think the political reality is that — as Madigan has said all along — passing a responsible state budget is qoing to require a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

    The irony of course is that the spending cuts that rural voters are demanding disproportionately affect rural communities.

    What are Charleston, Macomb, Champaign, Edwardsville, DeKalb, Carbondale without state universities? In each region, the public university is far-and-away the largest employer.

    Strip any downstate prison away and their community becomes a blackhole.

    This gets us back to the heart of the state budget conundrum: polls have consistently shown that the public wants lawmakers to cut “wasteful” spending, but every time you get around to specific areas of cuts - education, health care, public safety, social services - the public also says they want lawmakers to increase spending or atleast protect those areas from cuts.

    Once again, my recommendation is for Governor Quinn to spend the next month touring downstate Illinois, and not come back to Chicago until he’s visited every downstate county.

    Explain the conundrum to voters, tell them what the choices are, but most importantly LISTEN to them. My experience is that voters want to feel like they’re being HEARD as much or more than they want you to AGREE.

  17. - Okay Then/Will County Woman - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:43 pm:

    “as Madigan has said all along — passing a responsible state budget is qoing to require a combination of tax increases and spending cuts”

    Which Madigan? Lisa????

  18. - VanillaMan - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 12:57 pm:

    Half the state did not vote for this Governor. So Chicago is the biggest, it still came up with only half the votes. The idea that being the biggest means calling the political shots has been revealed as wrong. We are talking about Bill Brady. He almost won. Instead of pretending that fact does not mean that change is wanted by more than half the stat is being in denial.

    At the state level, nothing changed. How much longer will nothing change? You like where we are?

    The agents of change did not win this month but that does not change the fact that Chicago is still an isolated city. Downstate Democrats need to survive outside Chicago. Quinn is Governor of Chicago so he cannot help them.

  19. - VanillaMan - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    The GOP discovered they could tie a state election with Brady. Now they are imagining bigger. Quinn was a pity vote. Sometimes a win is a lose. Governor Brady? We dodged a bullet. With someone else Chicago would have lost this month.

    Non-Chicagoans voted for change. It did not come. They will not return to the fold if the incumbents continue practicing crappy government at higher prices. Just because they dodged a bullet this does not mean the shooting stopped.

    Quinn is still an accidental governor and should govern as such. He is persona non grata to half the state. He is not a candidate that barely won. He is a governor who barely won thanks to one locale.

  20. - Ronbo - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:37 pm:

    Looks like Quinn’s already starting to payoff the Unions. Look at HB1509 making all State funded projects subject to a “Project Labor Agreement”.

  21. - Fed up - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:39 pm:


    No those areas aren’t urban they are suburban. Big difference. Suburban voters are different than urban or rural voters. Those are the growth areas in the state and nationally and they went to the GOP. They can swing to either party but I don’t see what Quinn is offering that would pull the suburbs his way. Higher Taxes “no thanks”, The often promised never delivered property tax relief doubt it. A continuation of programs that the middle class has to pay for with no benefit to them, probably. Quinn doesn’t play well in the burbs and the GOP will eventually figure out that a social moderate is what will win.

  22. - reflector - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:42 pm:

    I see nice gov buildings in the Chicago area as well as down state.Yes some of our homes are getting older and our jobs are going to other places.My one son lost his job in Danville because the factory moved to Georgia,anther son is about to lose his job in Alton because the company is moving to Miss.For 27 years I drove from100 miles a day To 200 miles a day 6 months of the year.I did it because I like living in downstate Illinois.We are good workers but we need JOBS>

  23. - Fed up - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:45 pm:

    Vanilla man is correct over half the state voted for someone besides Quinn, Obama came back to Ill, 3 times in the last month for Quinn and Alexi and Quinn eked it out with Alexi failing. Madigan has 2 years and will have to play defense again because their is no real improvement on the horizon for the economy, Brady wouldn’t of been any better but for the next 2 years the Dems could of pointed to him now its still all Dem control at the state level and nothing is going get better for 2012.

  24. - Fed up - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 1:52 pm:


    The only new buildings on the west and south side of Chicago are the Social security offices and Police stations, no factories are left no mills or steel plants no stockyards nothing is manufactured in the city any more the warehouses are along I80and I55 in the burbs. I would say that a declining job base isn’t a rural problem but a Illinois problem as anyone who drive south of Cermak Rd in the city can plainly see.

  25. - cassandra - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 2:11 pm:


    The physical presence of factories doesn’t signify wealth in a knowledge economy though. The question is where are the kids who can compete in a knowledge economy going to live and raise their families. New York City if they could afford it.
    San Francisco. Boston. And even Chicago.

    I count suburbs as part of urbanization. Those suburbs wouldn’t be clustered around, say, Podunk, Rural State West. And when gas prices rise for good, as they will, I suspect young people were move closer in rather further out.

    We are saying the same thing, though, really.
    Who pays? And for what?

  26. - Fed up - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 2:25 pm:

    cassandra, I to worry about the future of Chicago and Illinois because our public school system doesn’t begin to prepare our children for the future. Ill has one of the shortest school days and shortest school years in the country not to mention the developed world. Gov Quinn can call his tax increase an education surcharge but anyone who believes the money will be used for education needs to look no farther than the lottery folly’s to see we in Ill. place no real value on education. We will be Mississippi in 20 years without the cheap labor costs and mild winters.

  27. - the Patriot - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 2:29 pm:

    It was just an odd year. Quinn picked a downstate running mate that was way too liberal to be used to campaign downstate. Brady had a running mate he had to put on a shelf. Normally the running mates cover the ground where the primary candidate is weak or does not want to spend time. This election, both were essentially non factors. People in Chicago would rather vote for an idiot from Chicago that has proven he can’t do the job then give a downstater a chance. They took Ryan over Poshard because he was the more Chicago friendly candidate. In the end, people in chicago don’t care how bad it gets down state, as long as they have one of their own in office. Lets not discount that 46% is not much of a victory.

    Forget the numbers of the election. Quinn is going to have trouble getting support downstate because 54% of the people are against him, he has a 15 billion dollar deficit to fix, and he is going to be challenged by the daughter of the speaker of the house who is most powerful man ever in IL politics in 4 years.

    I am not sure Brady isn’t the real winner here.

  28. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 3:00 pm:

    Okay Then -

    I was referring to Mike Madigan - sorry for confusing you.

  29. - Jon Zahm - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 4:43 pm:

    Also noteworthy is that the Henry County Republicans turned an 8-16 deficit into a 13-11 majority on the County Board as we defeated 5 incumbents,including my victory over an 8-year Democrat. We also helped deliver victories to Hultgren and Schilling for Congress and Rich Morthland for State Representative, all over Dem incumbents.

  30. - Mr. Whipple - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 4:55 pm:

    Vanilla Man is correct when he says that Quinn is our accidental governor. Unfortunately, Bill Brady lost because he was our “accidental” GOP candidate. If the Illinois GOP had managed to get a stronger GOP candidate out there in the Illinois GOP Primary, then Pat Quinn would today be pounding the streets looking for a job. Bill Brady is a decent guy but is “light in the loafers” when it comes to being able to get elected as a state gubernatorial candidate. If he couldn’t beat a feather-weight like Pat Quinn, how can the GOP expect somebody like Bill Brady to beat a heavy-weight contender like Lisa Madigan in 2014?

    Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady should not be shy about asking for some much needed help when it comes time to decide who the next GOP warrior is going to be that Illinois Republicans send out to fight the dragon. Conservative being stamped on one’s forehead is evidently not all that is required to be able to slay dragons. The Illinois GOP needs somebody that happens to know how to wield a sword as well.

  31. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 6:06 pm:

    It’s appropriate that union-state-employee VMan, in his climate-controlled, no-heavy-lifting office cube, speaks about how Quinn really wasn’t elected governor of Illinois.

    Because as we all know, acreage trumps population. Instead of One-Man, One-Vote, it’s One-Acre, One-Vote.

    I’m sure VMan’s trophy room is full of “Participant Medals,” and empty pudding cups, because “Everyone’s a Winner” in his world.

  32. - Anonymous - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 6:23 pm:

    Has anyone heard what Rep. Hoffman
    was is he going to do / Seems Strange
    no recent Press Conference’s Events.

    Bragging on his Past Failure’s Etc
    Wasting the Taxpayers Monies !!!!

    Also What About Kyle “Eddie” Anderson
    has he been appointed to some other
    Political Hack Job ????

  33. - bored now - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 6:39 pm:

    VanillaMan: only an an idiot would take your advice. who cares if downstate residents don’t want to be part of illinois? they can always move. and if they don’t understand how democracies work, there are lots of countries around the world who share their ignorance. illinois and the duly elected governor is not obligated to pretend that they aren’t a part of this state just because *they* are idiots.

    governor quinn won because he ran a better campaign that appealed to more voters. bill brady wanted to take illinois back to be like indiana, kentucky and tennessee, and if his supporters can’t handle the result of an election, i’m sure those backward states would be happy to have them…

  34. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 8:33 pm:

    VMan just wants someone to take care of him. He can’t summon the independent, self-sufficient spirit that won the west.

  35. - NothingWillCHG - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 9:05 pm:

    So what have the Democrats decided they will make their high priorities Gay rights, Gambling, Medical Marijuana and the Death penalty? These were the high priorities during the election not Jobs or the state paying it’s bill’s I would say the democrats didn’t get the message from the voter’s. I’m not so sure that the democrats are so serious about fixing the problems of the state and 2012 will look like 2010 maybe worse because Obama won’t be able to bail out Quinn with Stimulus money with a Republican House.

  36. - T.J. - Monday, Nov 29, 10 @ 10:51 pm:

    I think you mean, he wanted to take Illinois ahead to be like Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. You know, states that are not hemorrhaging jobs and citizens.

  37. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 7:01 am:

    –I think you mean, he wanted to take Illinois ahead to be like Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. You know, states that are not hemorrhaging jobs and citizens.–

    September Unemployment Rates, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    Kentucky– 9.8%

    Tennessee– 9.2%

    Indiana — 9.5%

    Illinois –9.5%

    Stark differences there. Plus, Illinois’ GSP is much bigger than those other states.

    When, why and in what circles did Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana become models for Western Civilization?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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