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Dems hope to stop Madison County’s slide to GOP

Monday, Jul 30, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

President Donald Trump visited an Illinois county last week that was once considered a Democratic Party bastion but has been slipping away to the Republicans throughout this decade.

Madison County, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, has been known for two things for as long as most can remember: Union workers and trial lawyers.

The area is heavily industrialized, with the Wood River Refinery towering over everything. And the gorgeous and gleaming white county courthouse in Edwardsville reflects the wealth that trial lawyers, particularly in the asbestos field, have brought to (and extracted from) the area.

The combination of working-class voters and trial lawyer money made the Democrats almost unbeatable until the national Tea Party victories of 2010 when the Republicans started making serious inroads. The county has also become more suburbanized, as St. Louis-area folks realized there was a better option across the river.

Democratic state Rep. Jay Hoffman lost his re-election to Republican Dwight Kay in 2010, and the Republicans picked up two additional countywide offices that year. Madison County voters also chose the Republican candidates for both governor and U.S. Senate for the first time in memory. All three of the county’s congressmen are now Republicans: Mike Bost, Rodney Davis and John Shimkus. The Bost and Davis districts were originally drawn to be Democratic.

Since 2010, just two statewide Democrats have won Madison County: Jesse White in 2014 and Tammy Duckworth in 2016. The Republicans now have a majority on the county board. And while Dwight Kay lost his seat two years ago in a stunning upset, the word is the House Republicans have polling showing him tied 45-45 with freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Stuart of Edwardsville.

Congressman Bost won his district after longtime Democratic Congressman Jerry Costello retired and the local party bosses handed his seat to a National Guard general who could only hold on for one term. The Democrats were unable to nominate someone who could do well enough in the rural, “southern” part of the district to build on their margins in the urban/suburban Metro East portion. But even that was upended in 2016, when Bost lost Madison County by only about 200 votes. Bost lost the county in 2014 by almost 10 percentage points.

Bost’s Democratic opponent this year is St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, who seems to have a knack for connecting with the district’s rural areas that the last two Democratic candidates did not. But the president’s visit to celebrate the ultra-hyped news that the Granite City Steel plant is reopening (only partially because of the president’s tariffs, but you wouldn’t know that by reading most news coverage) should probably worry Democrats that their grip in the Metro East could be eroded even further.

Elsewhere, the 111th Illinois House District race between appointed Rep. Monica Bristow (D-Godfrey) and Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock should be one to watch. This district is mostly in Madison County, with a smallish 1000-vote or so sliver in Jersey County. Babcock is a very aggressive campaigner who has embraced President Trump.

Trump won this district by 16 points in 2016. However, statewide Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Susana Mendoza also won it (by 11 points and 1 point, respectively).

Until Bristow’s appointment late last year, the 111th had been represented since 2004 by Rep. Daniel Beiser (D-Alton). Beiser was unopposed in 2010 and 2014, but he soundly won his 2012 race by 17 points, and then only managed to win it in 2016 by five points. The writing was on the wall and he left.

The Senate Democrats are not as worried as they could’ve been about the county’s 56th Senate District seat, currently held by retiring Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton). The main reason for their lack of anxiety is that they kicked the Republican candidate, Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton, off the primary ballot and he is now running as a third-party candidate.

Historically, it’s tough for a third-party candidate to win even though there is no GOP candidate in that race. Patton also endured a scandal last month when photos surfaced of him wearing blackface at a party.

Patton is up against Rachelle Aud Crowe, a criminal prosecutor in the Madison County State’s Attorney’s office. President Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016, but so did Sen. Duckworth. Comptroller Mendoza essentially tied her Republican opponent.

The 56th is swingy, going back and forth among both parties at the top and bottom of the ticket. Sen. Haine’s personal popularity made him a lock, so we’ll see what happens this time around.


  1. - Downstate - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 9:32 am:

    Madison County’s swing to the Republican fold is best evidenced by the two 2016 Appellate Court Races. The court races are usually driven by party affiliation rather than personalities.

    The Republican candidates were each outspent more than 4 to 1 by their Democrat opponents. But the Republican candidates won with 51% and 54% of the vote.

    Those races are a strong indication of the shift of momentum in Madison County.

  2. - 47th Ward - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:04 am:

    Madison County is very interesting. For many years it was a solid Democratic vote producing machine. Then, as new residents poured in from Missouri over the past 20-30 years, Republicans gained ground and now hold their own in Madison.

    If there is an Achilles heel for the Republicans, you can watch it play out in local government. I think Republicans campaign well but govern poorly, and I think the County Board is a particularly good example of that in Madison. Supply side economics doesn’t work, and it especially doesn’t work for local governments.

    If the Republicans could effectively govern at the local level, they can build on their gains. But I think effective governing is at odds with the way Republicans have to campaign to get elected, so the disconnect will continue.

  3. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:09 am:

    I think Republicans campaign well but govern poorly, LOL

    How would you describe the Democrats record of governing responsibly in Illinois and Cook County 47th Ward?

    Like a swiss watch or a timex?

    You have it backwards completely, Democrats campaign effectively by promising all kinds of spending and never figure out a way to pay for it.

  4. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:11 am:

    –The county has also become more suburbanized, as St. Louis-area folks realized there was a better option across the river.–

    The Missouri Exodus?

    The big margins piled up in 2016 by both Trump and Duckworth in Bost’s district are interesting. Not sure what to make of that ticket-splitting.

  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:28 am:

    –You have it backwards completely,–

    Rauner’s run-up of unpaid bills and the current exploding deficits and borrowing in DC say differently.

    But that’s just a fact-based observation, not like those super-slick and devastating talking points you bring to the table every day.

  6. - Downstate - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:40 am:

    -How would you describe the Democrats record of governing responsibly in Illinois and Cook County 47th Ward?-

    Great point. Over the weekend, the city of Chicago passed another milestone as they are now averaging more than 8 shootings every day.

  7. - Anonimity - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:43 am:

    The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed in the early 2000’s that had a stat re: counties where the most class-action lawsuits were filed in the country. #1 was Cook County; #2 was LA County; #3 was Madison County, IL.

    My how times have changed.

  8. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:44 am:

    =All three of the county’s congressmen are now Republicans: Mike Bost, Rodney Davis and John Shimkus=

    3 in one county, prime example of needing a Fair Map.

  9. - JS Mill - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:46 am:

    =Over the weekend, the city of Chicago passed another milestone as they are now averaging more than 8 shootings every day.=

    St. Louis is still more dangerous with more shootings per capita than Chicago. Same with Peoria.

  10. - SWILVoter - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:52 am:

    There was barely a “Democratic Party” to speak of in the run up to and immediate aftermath of the 2016 elections. You couldn’t even look up your precinct committee person unless you went back to the official county canvass to see who won the election, and that told you nothing about the appointees. Large swaths of precincts went unrepresented. There seems to be dramatic improvement on that front. Most precincts are filled, and now the local Republican Party seems to be struggling. I don’t perceive their presence like I do the Ds. For what that observation is worth

  11. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:55 am:

    –Over the weekend, the city of Chicago passed another milestone as they are now averaging more than 8 shootings every day.–

    Another one? What were the other ones? Show your work.

    Oh, to be blissfully ignornant like LP and Downstate.

  12. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 10:56 am:

    Compare the fiscal health of Du Page County to Cook County and tell us again how the Republicans can’t govern effectively.

    Du Page is rated by the bond houses as AAA, AAA and AA.

    While you are at it, compare the fiscal health of the 33 states with Republican Governors to the fiscal health of the 18 states with Democratic Governors.

    See any patterns?

  13. - 47th Ward - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:09 am:

    ===See any patterns?===

    I’ve noticed a pattern where trolls try to hijack a thread by changing the subject.

  14. - Collinsville Kevin - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:21 am:

    Voters in the county have been driven away by the corrupt and sclerotic Madison County Democratic “machine.” The candidates they have offered up have not been stellar.Of course, they have been replaced by equally incompetent Republicans.

  15. - SWILVoter - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:29 am:

    Lots of fireworks in the county Republican Party too. Chaired by R majority, the admin building has been raided by the cops multiple times, they just had a pretty bitter fight over Party Chair, and the board chairman seems to have a tenuous grip on the loyalty of his caucus. He’s tried to force through lots of items even over the objections of his own party

  16. - Grand Avenue - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:33 am:

    The economy is doing good, Republicans outside of Chicagoland should all be embracing Trump. They’ll win.

    If Jeanne Ives had been unabashedly pro-Trump (plus not had clown-tier ads) she probably would have won.

  17. - Downstate - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:40 am:

    -Show your work.-
    I follow a web site on Chicago shootings. They are on pace to exceed 2016 and 2017 homicide rate. They’ve been averaging a little under 8 shootings per day in Chicago. Over the weekend that number has now crept past 8 per day, or one every three hours.

    Didn’t mean to take the blog post into another realm. But I do agree that Democrat control of a county is certainly no guarantee for success. That’s without even talking about the property tax tsunami heading Cook County’s way.

  18. - Nacho - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 11:59 am:

    ==The economy is doing good, Republicans outside of Chicagoland should all be embracing Trump. They’ll win.==

    Historically there has been little correlation between the state of the economy and midterm election results.

  19. - SWILVoter - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:06 pm:

    Nacho- exactly. 2014 saw some of the biggest gdp, job and wage gains of the decade (bigger than today), and it meant exactly nothing as Dems were swept from power

  20. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:12 pm:

    The problem in Madison County is not the influx of Republicans from Missouri. The problem is the loss of industry. The county used to be solid blue color but rich and stable. Now the factories are largely closed, and even the ones that are still open do not pay as well as they used to. Take the refinery which you mention. When it was a Shell refinery it paid high wages to lots of folks. Now the new owners pay such wages to far fewer people. Shell lavished money on local schools and other beneficiaries. Now Wood River had to close its aquatic park because of shortage of funds. Hard times have come, and the good times left.

  21. - historic66 - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:19 pm:

    ==Shell lavished money on local schools and other beneficiaries.==

    Roxana high school teams are even called the Shells.

  22. - wordslinger - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:39 pm:

    –I follow a web site on Chicago shootings. They are on pace to exceed 2016 and 2017 homicide rate.–

    “Shootings” and “homicide rate” are not the same thing.

    Regardless, I posted a link that showed both shootings and homicides are down in the first half of 2018. You’re just spouting off, blissfully fact-free.

    Here it is again.

  23. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:51 pm:

    Also since 60% of gun deaths are suicides, how many of all shootings are attempted suicides? Rahm never should have closed the mental health clinics.

  24. - Stooges - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 12:58 pm:

    Good article Rich, I’m an Edwardsville resident and you sum it up very well. The county is trending Republican due to growth in Godfrey, Edwardsville, Highland and Glen Carbon and non-industrial municipalities. Those cities are definitely not blue collar and mirror some of the demographics of the Chicago suburbs for wages, education, etc. The most stunning development has been the takeover of the county board and the board chairmanship by Republicans, though the current chairman is faltering and could hand everything back to the Democrats.

    As a Republican, I have supported Haine and Hoffman because they represent us well. I’ll be voting for Kay (R) and Crowe (D) this fall.

  25. - Ike - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 1:07 pm:

    Lucky Pierre - a lot of these republican governors are in states were they get more federal money than what they put in. Its easy to be financially responsible when the blue states are picking up the tab for the red states.

  26. - Almost the weekend - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 1:21 pm:

    Couldn’t agree more with anonymous at 12:12, democrats talk about an economy that works for everyone then clearly have no solution for areas like Granite City, Alton or ESL. I’m not discussing the merits why the steel plant re opened, but how can you blame an area of the state for supporting Trump and his policies when Democrats at the federal and state level did absolutely nothing to stop globalization or even help the area transition to a different sector of the economy.

  27. - west wing - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 1:25 pm:

    This is part of the overall trend of formerly blue downstate counties trending purple and red, partly due to the Democratic Party of Illinois’ lack of effort during the last decade and partly due to the national Dem party’s weak effort in the heartland. Time to turn that around.

  28. - Downstate - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 1:40 pm:

    Your article is from early June. It you’ll go to, you’ll find Chicago shooting statistics updated daily. The shooting rate and homicide rate are clearly two different things.
    The shooting rate is now greater than one every three hours. I visit this site on a regular basis, and the frequency of shootings has only recently accelerated to 8 per day.
    The annual statistics on homicides were based on a graph lower in the page. I misinterpreted the graph. In fact, the trend is toward a lower number than 2017 and 2016. But higher than 2009-2015.

  29. - worslinger - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 1:44 pm:

    – Your article is from early June.–

    No, it’s clearly dated July 1 and explicitly says it covers the first six months of the year.

    Maybe sit this one out, champ.

  30. - Nitemayor - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 2:06 pm:

    The St Louis MSA consists of the City of St Louis plus 9 Mo. Counties and 8 Ill. Counties with a population of over 2.8 million and the only Democratic congressman is Lacy Clay of St Louis and is unlikely to change unless the D’s turn out huge with some coattails down ballot.

  31. - Roman - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 4:30 pm:

    I can’t claim any on-the-ground knowledge of politics in Metro East, but don’t overlook the surprising near upset of James Claiborne four years ago as a sign of how demographics are changing there.

  32. - mlm training - Monday, Jul 30, 18 @ 5:35 pm:

    Hello, after reading this remarkable paragraph i am as well delighted to share my experience here
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