Saturday, March 17, 2012

Illinois Primary Preview

After his wins in Mississippi and Alabama, Rick Santorum hopes to firmly establish himself as the conservative alternative to Romney by winning a state that conventional wisdom suggests should be safe for Romney. That state would be Illinois which has its primary on March 20th. Illinois not only has a large delegate prize of 54 delegates awarded on election day (Illinois has 69 delegates but only 54 are awarded based on the results of the March 20th primary,) but also appeared to be safe for Romney until recently when Santorum started to campaign there. Romney has a more than 300 delegate lead in the delegate count and to cut into Romney's lead, Santorum needs to win as many states as he can. Some upcoming states such as New York and New Jersey appear to be strong Romney states because of the large groups of socially moderate Republicans there. Illinois at first appears to resemble those states because like New Jersey and New York, Illinois has a large metropolitan area (Chicagoland, the 3rd largest metropolitan area in the nation,) which would suggest Illinois has a large population of moderate Republicans and would therefore vote for Romney. As Bill Brady's (R) one point loss shows though in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Pat Quinn (D), the conservative base in Illinois is still strong. Brady was against embryonic stem cell research, a woman's right to choose even in cases of rape and incest and he even supported legislation that would prevent pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception. Brady's platform was extremely far right on social issues and yet he still lost by one point, showing that the social conservative base in Illinois is very strong and if Santorum can capitalize on it, he can win. This post will discuss the three distinct regions of Illinois, describe their demographics and voting habits and highlight which candidate I expect to win there and why.

Here is a map of Illinois with dark blue representing Cook County, yellow representing the suburban "Collar Counties" and gray representing Downstate.

(Map courtesy of U.S Census quick facts.)

Cook County:
Cook County contains the city of Chicago, its close in suburbs which represent a bit over 40% of Illinois's population. In the Democratic primaries, the Cook County vote is crucial and casts more than half of the votes. The 2010 Democratic Gubernatorial primary shows the power of Cook County. Incumbent Pat Quinn (D) won 54% in Cook County, only won a handful of counties outside of Cook County and lost downstate by more than 20%. Quinn still won though because although percentagewise his Cook County margin was not overwhelming, the margin was large enough because of the number of votes in Cook County. In the Republican primary though, the Cook County vote is less crucial. Cook County’s percent of the Republican statewide vote is close to 25%. This is good news for Santorum because Cook County's Republicans are not likely to strongly support him. Most of the Cook County Republicans are middle to upper middle class, well educated and socially moderate. Statewide, Cook County is the Democratic base with its large numbers of African Americans, Hispanics, college students, Jewish voters and upscale liberals in the Evanston area so Republicans never win Cook County in the general election. In the Republican primary though, what Romney needs to do is win by more than 20 points here so he can offset Santorum's margins in the rest of the state. Romney should do well here due to the extremely low number of social conservatives here. Santorum may receive some support from the Illinois 3rd congressional district which represents western Chicago and some suburbs nearby but the votes Santorum receives from there should be nowhere near enough to offset Romney's support throughout the rest of Cook County. Also, based on my experience monitoring election returns, Cook County almost always reports early and should give a Romney lead early but the lead should narrow as less pro Romney areas Downstate report late.

Collar Counties:
These counties contain the rapidly growing Chicago suburbs and exurbs. Political pundits refer to them as the "Collar Counties" because they seem to form a collar around Cook County. Many of the residents are middle class to upper middle class families who left Chicago in the 2nd half of the 20th Century and work in the private sector. Most of the voters are well educated too. The inner counties include DuPage and Lake Counties while the outer and generally fast growing counties include McHenry, Kane, Kendall, Kankakee, Grundy, DeKalb and Will Counties. They were once all heavily Republican, DuPage County voted 68% for George Bush Sr. in 1988 but these counties have trended more Democratic in recent years as the Republicans moved right on social issues. George W. Bush only won 54% in DuPage County in 2004. The Collar Counties though have not trended left as much as the suburbs of Philadelphia and New York City have though, suggesting there are some social conservatives in the Collar Counties but enough social moderates to provide a delicate balance between the two groups. Although the inner suburbs of Lake County along Lake Michigan are more socially moderate, more wealthy and more educated and therefore should support Romney, the further inland one drives, the more socially conservative the voters become as a general rule. Rick Santorum therefore needs to win the exurban swing counties of McHenry and Kane Counties if he wants to win statewide. The 2008 Republican Presidential primary in Illinois paints a strong picture. McCain, the moderate candidate won 47% of the vote statewide, winning an outright majority in Lake and DuPage Counties but performing poorly in the exurban areas of McHenry and Kane Counties. During election night, watch the fast growing Kendall and Kankakee Counties which were formerly rural but are quickly being converted into suburbs (Kendall was the nation's fastest growing county with a population above 10,000 people from 2000 to 2010.) Santorum needs to run up the numbers there if he wants to keep it close or pull off an upset win.

Downstate Illinois:
This part of Illinois is everything outside of Chicago and its suburbs. It is very crucial because it cast around 47% of the Republican Presidential Primary vote in 2008, despite having less than 40% of the state's population. Downstate is mostly composed of rural farming areas and a few small cities such as Peoria, East St. Louis and Decatur. The voters here are farmers, working class and more socially conservative. This is the Republican base in the state which produced conservatives such as Brady. Even Obama only carried Downstate 51%-48% in the 2008 general election, despite hailing from Illinois and being popular there. Downstate is fertile territory for Santorum because of the large number of socially conservative rural voters there.  It is very possible for Santorum to win the small cities such as Peoria and Decatur because although Romney usually appeals to urban voters, these cities have very conservative Republicans and cities with similar demographics in Ohio such as Springfield and Lima voted for Santorum. Watch for some Romney wins though in Madison and St. Clair Counties (St. Louis metropolitan area,) due to the suburban voters there but as Santorum's sweep of the St. Louis metropolitan area during the Missouri primary proved, St. Louis metropolitan area Republicans are definitely open to voting for him. If Romney wins by Illinois by double digits though, he should win in some of the small cities such as Rock Island and Peoria. If Santorum wants to win statewide, he needs to win by at least 15 points Downstate.

Overall, most polls suggest a Romney win (the RCP Poll average as of Saturday, March 17th show Romney +6.) I therefore expect Romney to win but as the Ohio and Mississippi polls showed, Romney's lead sometimes is overstated so we should not count out Santorum completely. For example,  exit polls showed +6 for Romney and Mississippi +2 for Romney (polls a few days before the election mostly showed similar leads) but Romney won Ohio by only 1 point and lost Mississippi by 2. Although Romney's lead should be too large to overcome, Santorum could make it close and therefore be able to stay in the race. For Santorum to perform well, he needs to keep Romney's margin in Cook County below 20 points, win more votes than Romney does in the Collar Counties and win at least a low double digit margin Downstate. Illinois is a representation of the United States in a way because of how it represents the U.S's demographics. There are large communities of African Americans, Hispanics, upscale liberals, suburban voters, rural evangelical voters and farmers. Illinois will therefore give an important signal to the Republicans about how the U.S Republicans view their candidates and could either keep Santorum's campaign alive or reinforce Romney's image as the inevitable nominee.

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