Election night was a disaster for Illinois Democrats, but it could have been worse. In fact, it should have been worse. Why? Since 2009, the Democrats nationally and in Illinois have run all the major governments. Look at the batting order: the White House, Congress, all Illinois constitutional statewide offices and both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly.
Nationwide, the economy has not recovered, President Obama's big legislative success, health care reform, now looms as a political albatross, and all the political energy resides mainly within the Republican Party's conservative and tea party ranks.
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In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached, removed from office and convicted of a felony in fairly rapid order, the state's economy is in shambles, and reform like a purifying wind blows incessantly and loudly through newspaper editorial offices and "goo-goo" nonprofit organizations. Yet, look what happened election night.
To be sure, Illinois Republicans regained Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, and they did knock off several Democratic congressmen and women and also won the two least powerful statewide offices.
However, as of this writing, the big prize the governorship appears to be remaining a Democratic office. And Illinois Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was made political public enemy No. 1 in various media outlets and in GOP advertising, remains a tad weaker but still is in power. His colleague, state Senate President John Cullerton, also retains a comfortable Democratic majority in his chamber.
Why then was there not a total Republican sweep in Illinois? In a word, suburbia.
Cook County suburbs, once part of a Republican counter force to Democratic Chicago, flipped their party preferences several elections ago and on Nov. 2 remained solidly if not overwhelmingly Democratic. Collar counties, once rock-hard Republican, no longer produce huge percentage wins for GOP statewide candidates. If unofficial election returns do not change dramatically, neither the GOP Senate or gubernatorial candidate received 60 percent of the vote in any of the five collar counties.
Not that long ago, Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates carried suburban Cook by over 100,000 votes and racked up collar county percentages in the 60 percent-plus range. Those days are gone. New residents now live in these two regions, and among suburban women, the agenda of the social conservative wing of the Illinois GOP frightens them.
For those readers who are skeptical of this analysis, let me throw some specific numbers at you. From 1976 to 1998, Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidates won seven straight elections. Their suburban Cook County victory margin was never less than 109,973 (George Ryan, 1998), and their collar county winning percentage was never lower than 63 percent (Jim Edgar, 1990).
The above geopolitical scenario could explain in part why so many targeted North and Northwest suburban Illinois House Democrats did so well Tuesday night. (It does not explain Congresswoman Melissa Bean's apparent defeat in the 8th Congressional District. I admit, her situation is a baffler.)
Lastly, downstate came through big time for Bill Brady and Mark Kirk. In the former's case, those voters made the gubernatorial race an eyelash battle, giving Kirk the cushion he needed to top Alexi Giannoulias for U.S. Senate. However, given the dire socioeconomic and political conditions of Illinois, the party in power should have been swept out of office, but it was not. And future analyses should detail: Why?
Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.