Friday, March 23, 2018

Illinois Primary Results—Not News Any More So This Must be Analysis—Congressional Races

Much of the energy fueling a Democratic and progressive surge this year comes from highly motivated women activists.

If progressives were disappointed by the choices voters made at the top of the ballot in the Illinois Primary on Tuesday, they had a lot to celebrate in other races where they did just fine, thank you.  In fact, they shifted the center of gravity among Democrats substantially to the left and proved the power of their activist-driven grass roots style is effective. 
3rd Congressional District
Even in the most high-profile race which got national attention and which the progressive favorite lost by an eyelash was a win of sorts.  The story of that race is actually astonishing.  Marie Newman was one of the wave of women candidates motivated by Hillary Clinton’s loss and Donald Trumps ascension as a President determined to un-do every progressive advance since the New Deal.  Although a veteran activist who had had directed a national anti-bullying nonprofit and was Illinois spokesperson for the gun control group Moms Demand Action, Marie Newman was virtually unknown to the public.  As late as February, after months of campaigning, her own internal poll showed a name recognition in the 3rd District of only 13%.  And she was an abortion rights defender in a heavily Catholic District with many conservative white ethnic voters that stretches from Chicagos Southwest Side through largely blue-collar suburbs to the cornfields around Romeoville.

Progressive feminist Marie Newman nearly upset Blue Dog Dem Dan Lipinski.
By contrast her opponent could have been the dictionary example of an entrenched incumbent.  Dan Lipinski had already served seven terms in Congress and commanded a well oiled political organization with the firm backing of the Cook County and state party apparatus.  Moreover, he was the scion of a political dynasty sometimes called the Polish Kennedys.  Dan’s father, William preceded him in Congress and after several terms handed the District over to his son on a platter.   Together father and son sat in Congress for 35 years.
Already noted as staunch anti-abortion politician, Lipinski proved to be one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress on a wide range of issues frequently supporting Republicans in critical votes.   He was an ardent opponent of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and voted repeatedly to repeal it.   He also balked on civil rights issues, Gay rights, gun control, and immigration reform.  Lipinski became the chair of the notorious Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democrats and the target of liberal and progressive scorn.  Yet party leaders defended Lipinski for “reflecting his district.
As late as January polls showed Newman down 24 points to the incumbent.  But that was better than other underfunded upstart challenger had ever managed, and her activist fueled campaign was showing signs of life.  Encouraged Emily’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and other liberal and progressive organizations began to heavily invest in the campaign with money, professional expertise, and even boots on the ground.  The Blue Dogs rallied to Lipinski’s defense along with hefty expenditures by the allegedly centrist groups No Labels and Country Forward, and faux feminist anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List.  The race became a proxy fight between factions vying for control of the Party.
While Lipinski’s influx of money kept him treading water, Newman use hers to create a groundswell of support.  In the end she fell just a hair short.  Two more days of hard campaigning might have pushed her over the top. As of Wednesday morning, she trailed Lipinski 49% to 51% with 98% of precincts reporting only 2,124 votes down.
Feminists and progressives were elated by what had been accomplished and status quo, establishment Democrats were thrown into a panic with similar races coming up in several districts around the country.
Closer to my home, progressives won nominations in crowded fields for two seats where entrenched Republicans are believed to be in danger this fall—the 6th and 14th Districts.  Neither of those two candidates are the ones I endorsed in those races, but it is a tribute to the talent depth of the field that there were multiple outstanding candidates to choose from.  I am entirely satisfied with the choices voters made and both winners have excellent prospects against now vulnerable Republicans.
6th Congressional District

Sean Casten scored a win in his race with his platform for action on climate change, the environment, and respect for science.

The 6th which includes wealthy and middle class suburbs with a handful of working class pockets in a comma shaped district that includes parts of western Lake, northern Cook, southern McHenry, and slices of Kane and DuPage Counties was once considered the bastion of the Republican heartland.  But it has been trending more Democratic in recent years going for Barack Obama in 2008 was carried by Hillary Clinton by 7 points over Donald Trump.  And Democrats have been elected to county boards and county and local offices in increasing numbers.  Much of that energy has come from restive women. 
Those trends naturally attracted national attention and the district is now considered a winnable swing district.  In the end Sean Casten, a Downers Grove environmental engineer and entrepreneur ran largely on climate issues, respect for science, and creative economic development emerged at the top of a field of seven.  Casten was rated the favorite in the race and drew support from national environmental PACs, Democratic organizations, as well as key Illinois Democrats.  He ran a smart, well financed campaign with enough money for significant media buys.
Kelly Mazeski, a former chemist and financial advisor, who made healthcare and women’s rights her signature issues gave Casten a close race.  Endorsed by Emily’s List and a slew women in Congress led by Jan Schakowsky.  She was also my pick.  Mazeski held a slender lead late into the night while thousands of DuPage county ballots could not be counted because of a computer glitch.  When they were finally accessed Wednesday morning Casten went ahead 18,863 to 16,686 with the other candidates trailing behind.
Mazeski graciously conceded and pledged to support and work with Casten to defeat incumbent Pete Roskam, as did the others in the race.  Democrats and progressive in the district will be united going forward.
Together all the Democrats got 62,990 votes.  Final totals for Roskam, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, have surprisingly not been released, but given the strong Democratic turn out on election day I would not be surprised if his totals were less. 
The District, which was already listed as one of the top 10 most competitive in the country, just heated up even more.  Roskam, who trailed in fundraising through the primaries, is sitting on a $ 2 million plus campaign fund and can expect money to come pouring in from the Party and from a plethora of right-wing PACS.  That will be matched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign fund, Democratic National Committee, and a host of liberal, progressive, and environmental funds.  Expect one of the most expensive races in this election cycle.
In addition, Casten will benefit from a strong local activist base and will attract volunteers and canvassers from around the country.  Dems will have the boots on the ground advantage.
In addition to his environmental themes Casten will hit Roskam hard on his votes to kill the Affordable Care Act, for the disastrous tax bill, immigration reform, and abortion rights.  He will also slam the incumbent for dodging town hall meetings and other opportunities to hear from constituents since Trump’s election.  He will probably continue to evade all but the most tightly controlled public appearances and agree to as few debates or candidate forums as possible.  He will run an expensive media campaign and be heavily dependent on attack ads placed by those right wing PACS.
Expect a tight and exciting race.
14th Congressional District
Lauren Underwood on the line with supporters calling out Randy Hultgren on health care.  That focus resonated with voters.

Despite the national spotlight on the 6th District, Lauren Underwood’s achievement in the 14th was even more impressive and could portend almost revolutionary change in the sprawling district, another longtime Republican stronghold.  Underwood was a blow out winner in a seven-person race earning 28,047 votes, 57% of the total vote.  She left Mathew Brolley, the highly touted Mayor of Montgomery, who had the almost unanimous support of party leaders, local elected Democrats, labor, and most of the newspapers, in the dust of second place with only 6,538 votes, 13.4%.  My pick, Jim Walz who ran against incumbent Randy Hultgren two years ago and exceeded expectations, lagged in third place with 4,796 votes and 9.8%.
Underwood, a registered nurse and former senior policy advisor in Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, ran a campaign focused on health care and women’s rights.  Her campaign picked up steam with the critical support of Emily’s List and Off the Sidelines PAC which enabled her to get on the air and in social media with an effective advertising campaign.  But a raft of dedicated activist volunteers, many of them inspired by the Women’s March and by Medicare for All campaigns, really fueled her success across the District.
As her strength as a candidate became more obvious, many Party leaders backing Brolley were thrown into a near panic because they were convinced a Black woman could not win in an overwhelmingly White district.  But they were unable to get an effective handle on an attack ad campaign by surrogates that did not come off as blatantly racist. Ms. Underwood’s closet seems uncluttered by any whiff of scandal.  And while the District certainly has its share of Trump supporters with white panic over losing place and privilege, establishment Dems seem to forget voters embraced Barack Obama and that Black candidates like Secretary of State Jesse White have frequently out performed the rest of the Democratic ticket.
Underwood is an attractive, articulate, and charismatic campaigner who connects with even skeptical voters at public events.  With a high turn-out of motivated Democrats and independents a discouraged and fragmented Republican base that may not turn out in their usual numbers either because they despise Trump on one hand or believe that Governor Rauner has betrayed the conservative agenda, Underwood has a real shot at carrying off a real upset in November.
It is possible that Democrats could end up surrounding Chicago and Cook County Democratic Congressional Districts including the Lakefront 10th District already represented by Brad Schneider, through the 6th and 14th, to Bill Foster’s 11th District in the southwest suburbs.  And wouldn’t that shake things up!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Illinois Primary Results—Not News Any More So This Must be Analysis—State Races

J.B. Pritzker,celebrates winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary with lieutenant governor candidate Juliana Stratton.  It is now his race to lose against unpopular Governor Bruce Rauner in a deep Blue state during a Democratic wave election.

Well the results are in for the Illinois Primary except for some squeaker local races here and there.  If you are a local or a political animal, you know how at least the top-of-the-ticket marquee races turned out.  In this post I once again pretend to be a pundit and try and explain what it means.  I will bore down threw the ballot narrowing as I go through the Congressional races in my neck of the woods to the nitty-gritty of McHenry County races in subsequent posts.  And I will do it through the biased lens of a partisan progressive Democrat, just so you know what to expect.
Governor and Lt. Governor
I know some progressive were heart broken when billionaire J.B. Pritzker romped to victory in the Democratic contest with at last report 45.10 % of the total vote almost 20 points ahead of left darling State Representative Daniel Biss with 26.22%, a hair ahead of liberal nostalgia candidate Chris Kennedy at 24.64%.  It confirmed for them all their charges that the winner bought the election with his unprecedented $53 million primary war chest and two years of relentless TV advertising.
But those progressives are not nearly as disappointed as both the winner and looser on the Republican side.  And for good reason.  Incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner, another billionaire who mismanaged the state to financial catastrophe with his 2 ½ year budgetless stand-off with the Democratic legislature, held on by a DuPage County eyelash over previously obscure movement conservative State Representative Jeannie Ives by 51.7 to 48.3%.  

Deeply unpopular Governor Bruce Rauner barely beat back a challenge from the far right of the Republican Party by State Rep Jeannie Ives.  He will struggle to win over her supporters in November.

Ives, who did well Downstate and dominated the GOP vote-rich collar counties, represented the deep bitterness of hard core conservatives who felt that Rauner abandoned them on their key holy social issues—abortion, opposition to LSBGT rights, and guns—and in the end “caved” to Speaker Michael Madigan and Democrats to end the budget impasse.  Her comments in defeat were not only far from gracious, she continued to savage Rauner and held out no olive branch for reconciliation or party unity in November. 
Many of her supporters will not hold their noses to vote for Rauner, despite his pleas in his victory statement.  There is already talk about undertaking the nearly impossible task of fielding an independent candidate or turning to the Libertarian Party whose activist nominee Kash Johnson could conceivably be persuaded to withdraw to allow a better-known politico to take his spot.  But I wouldn’t hold my breath for either eventuality.  More likely, many Ives voters will feel undermotivated to vote in November or be willing to leave the Governor’s race blank on their ballots or write in Ives or make some other protest vote.
Rauner can’t afford a single defection from Republican ranks.  The vote totals in the two primaries tell the tail.  Illinois has been tending deeper blue over the last several election cycles and that process has been accelerated by Donald Trump imploding presidency and Rauner’s own unpopularity.  But the primary numbers are staggering.  All Democrats, including the single digit three also-rans, got 771,819 votes as of the most recent numbers.  Rauner and Ives together got only 3018,791, significantly less than half of the Democratic votes cast.  While primary turn out is significantly lighter than in the General Election, that is a mighty deep hole for Rauner to dig himself out of, especially as the disparity reflects a high degree of Democratic passion and commitment.
That passion and commitment will build as progressives lay some of their distaste for a money-bags aside and discover that Pritzger’s platform is nearly as progressive as Biss, differing more in detail than in substance.
That’s good for progressives up and down the ticket.   But it is not the end of the silver lining to Biss’s loss.  Biss and Kennedy voters taken together topped Pritzker by 46,150 votes.  If progressives and liberals had fielded a single candidate, they might have won.  At any rate, it shows the potential for future races.
Also, since progressives are highly motivated to beat Rauner—and the Trump agenda—this fall, they will almost unanimously support the ticket in the fall and will be moved to hit the bricks in support of the many down ballot progressives who won on Tuesday.  Dems in general will not have to fret about a disunited party to the degree that has the Governor is sweating bullets about his.
Polls taken before the end of 2017 showed Rauner losing to a generic Democrat by as much as 20%.  A February poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University showed Pritzker besting the Governor by 15 points.  No one expects those margins to hold up in a hot general election.  Rauner will close part of that gap.  But any way you slice it, those are long odds to overcome.
But Democrats cannot be over confident.  They still must inspire a big turnout from all their base voters and be able to reap disgusted independents and Republicans.  Rauner has one long shot chance—to keep doing what he has been doing, running mostly against Mike Madigan, a figure who has been so effectively demonized, not entirely without cause, that he is widely despised across much of Down State and the vote-rich Collar Counties.  He needs to convince enough voters in both regions who are otherwise going against Republicans as a protest to Donald Trump, to split their ballots for him.  It’s a long shot but not impossible.
Attorney General
The Democratic race for Attorney General turned into a two-candidate sprint to the finish line after pulling way ahead of a crowded pack.  That field of five included two with progressive support, Aaron Goldstein and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and three former prosecutors who pledged to root out corruption—an implicit slap at Mike Madigan. Only one, Sharon Fairley barely broke out of the single digits.  

Kwame Raoul over came former Governor Pat Quinn's name recognition to win the Attorney General nomination.
State Senator Kwame Raoul, who had the backing of most organization Democrats as well as solid support in the Black community, nosed out former Governor Pat Quinn in a surprisingly tight race.  Quinn, who has appeared on ballots for assorted offices for more than thirty years with mixed results, had few ardent fans but benefited chiefly from simple name recognition. 
Other candidates in the field tried to tag Raoul as Madigan’s pick, a claim that was undercut when TV spots by a Republican PAC absurdly leveled the same charge against Quinn who as those with actual memories recall was at constant odds with the Speaker during his spell as Governor.
In his victory speech Raoul highlighted his family’s roots as Haitian immigrants and pledged to protect the immigrant community form Trump’s deportation frenzy.  He hopes to broaden his support with increasingly important Latino voters for whom immigration is a key issue.  In some parts of the country Haitian and Latino immigrant communities have been at odds.  But the much smaller number of Haitians in Illinois as given them more reason to seek allies

Erika Harold will be an attractive and formitable opponent--the Republican's best shot at winning state-wide office in November.
This fall Raoul will face probably the toughest state-wide race against former Miss America and Harvard Law School graduate Erika Harold in November.
Harold will make a very attractive candidate in TV spots.  A lot of white voters will see the lightly sepia candidate of mixed White, Black, and Native American heritage and compare her to a big, scary looking Black man with a shaved head and vote against him while congratulating themselves on not being racist.  I’ll take flack for that statement, but it is the truth.
Harold will also distance herself from unpopular Trump and Rauner by claiming to be independent and even essentially non-partisan.  But social conservatives and former Ives supporters who cannot stomach Rauner, know that she is stridently anti-abortion and an opponent of LBGT rights and flock to her side.  Meanwhile she will let PACs fund attack ads tying Raoul to Madigan with out personally getting her supposed non-partisan hands dirty.
Raoul will have to rack up huge margins in the Black and Latino communities and other Democratic strongholds to overcome Harold’s appeal.
Other Constitutional Officers

Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Michael Frerichs, and Comptroller Susana Mendoza will all sail effortlessly to victory this November.

Down ballot, the other popular Democratic state-wide offices holders who all ran un-opposed can relax.  Their campaigns for re-election this fall will be almost as equally stress free.  Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, and Treasurer Michael Frerichs will face three Republican challengers—Jason Helland, Darlene Senger, and Jim Dodge respectively.  The GOP trio are essentially sacrificial goats and place holders since no ambitious or promising pol would risk their reputations in a suicide mission.   The most that the hapless Republicans can hope for is that they will get a line in their obituaries that reads “one-time candidate for…