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Article updated: 11/7/2012 9:33 PM

Five reasons Democrats rolled in the suburbs

By Mike Riopell

Democrats are in charge of Illinois government at a time when the state is months behind in paying $9 billion in bills and lacking the money to pay teachers' retirement benefits.

The state unemployment rate dropped in September but remained higher than the national average.

Yet, suburban voters on Tuesday flipped three congressional seats from Republican hands to Democrats. They sent more Democrats to Springfield.

And suburban support for President Barack Obama nearly matched that of 2008, with only McHenry County backing challenger Mitt Romney among Cook and the collar counties.

Both political parties will argue about why in the coming weeks as they already begin to mold their strategies for 2014. No one reason is likely to explain such clear Democratic advances, and not every factor will apply to every candidate.

But here are five factors that contributed to the Democratic gains in the traditionally Republican suburbs on Tuesday -- the five "M's" of the 2012 election.

Map

A political map drawn by Democrats gave their party an edge across the suburbs, particularly in the 10th Congressional District in Lake and Cook counties, where Brad Schneider of Deerfield edged Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Dold of Kenilworth.

Lake County Republican Chairman Bob Cook said even though Dold and his predecessor, now U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, were able to keep hold of the Democratic-leaning district for more than a decade, new boundaries helped turn the district blue.

"The redistricting just got us," Cook said. "In this case, they changed it just enough to put him over."

Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates and Bill Foster of Naperville also ran in districts that were more Democratic than in their previous campaigns, and they prevailed Tuesday under the new map.

On the state level, Democrats tweaked borders across the region to help give their candidates the best chances to win, picking up a net 12 seats in the General Assembly. Democrats in the Illinois Senate now will have a 21-vote advantage, 40-19. And House Democrats are looking at a 71-47 majority.

Makeup

But Democrats also won districts that would have been generally thought to be Republican-leaning. Democrat Tom Cullerton, for example, picked up a rare Democratic win for Illinois Senate from the traditionally Republican stronghold of DuPage County.

That stronghold, though, is looking less so lately. President Barack Obama carried DuPage County narrowly, as he did in all of the suburban counties except McHenry.

"That's probably the number one question we have to ask," said DuPage County Chairman Darlene Ruscitti. "How did DuPage County lose Romney?"

Democrats have been making inroads into the suburbs for years, and Tuesday's results could yet again be evidence of that.

The recent census showed more Latino voters in the suburbs, and nationwide they went strongly for Democrats. If that trend holds up, it could be a long-term problem for the local GOP.

Money

Democrats vastly outspent Republicans in Illinois legislative races and were rewarded with big majorities in both the state House and the Senate. As of late October, Democratic Party sources had spent about $7.8 million to Republican Party sources' $4.3 million, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

It didn't work out perfectly, though. In the Barrington area, for example, Republican David McSweeney was outspent in an Illinois House race by Independent Dee Beaubien in the most expensive race in the state, but McSweeney won anyway.

Duckworth far outpaced Congressman Joe Walsh in fundraising quarter after quarter. But more than $6 million in SuperPAC cash poured in to bolster Walsh's campaign.

In the 10th Congressional District, Dold outraised Schneider three quarters in a row, but again, outside spending -- including the House Majority PAC -- boosted Schneider's war chest.

Democrat Bill Foster of Naperville loaned his own campaign a significant amount of money in the final days of the race against Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Hinsdale.

Madigan

Much of the money in Illinois House races, in particular, came from party funds controlled by longtime powerful Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan. But criticism of his leadership as iron-fisted didn't seem to hurt other candidates.

Madigan frequently figured into Republican campaigns, with GOP candidates trying to tie their opponents to him. The Republican message is that Madigan controls much of state government, which raised taxes and is mired in debt.
Republican state Rep. Sidney Mathias of Buffalo Grove lost his bid for the Illinois House and had tried to tie Democrat Carol Sente of Vernon Hills to Madigan.

Mathias said, going door to door, it was obvious that local voters had a distaste for Madigan.

"But it's just as obvious that they haven't made that connection with their local candidate being the way to retire him," Mathias said.

Moderates

Many of the suburban Democrats elected Tuesday tried to bring a message of fiscal restraint to their campaigns. That created a tough spot for some Republicans, who pride themselves on the same message.

Democrats who are successful in the suburbs tend to move toward the political center, while stances on social issues sometimes push Republicans out of that spot.

"The key word is moderate," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat who won re-election Tuesday. "It seems like the pattern is we're all fiscal conservatives up here."

Republican Cook says his party shouldn't abandon that message and that Democrats should be held responsible for the state's financial problems.

"The Democrats in this state have absolute power and control," Cook said.

"We'll never give up," he said.

• Daily Herald Political Editor Kerry Lester contributed to this report.

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