Why the suburbs went blue for Hillary Clinton

Standing alone surrounded by a sea of red states, is Illinois suffering from postelection blues?

Republican President-elect Donald Trump won Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky Tuesday night while Illinois delivered for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

It's no surprise Chicago and Cook County backed Clinton, who grew up here, but so did all of the suburban counties with the exception of McHenry County. Why did most collar counties, which went for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2014, buck the Trump wave?

Party insiders give several reasons.

The Democratic Party of DuPage got a sudden influx of young foot soldiers, like organizer Alex Franklin, who campaigned for charismatic Democrat Bernie Sanders until the Vermont senator conceded to Clinton in July, then went to work for Clinton. Clinton won DuPage County by 14 percentage points on Tuesday.

“If you look at the holes right now, even where Democrats lost in DuPage there were absurdly high numbers, which are a direct result of the Sanders people and what we were doing out here,” said Franklin, of Glen Ellyn. He sees the merger of Clinton and Sanders supporters as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that will spill over into spring municipal elections.

“We're not going to walk away,” Franklin said.

It wasn't always that way. The growing diversity of the suburbs and the rise of Barack Obama, Illinois' former U.S. senator, helped flip the suburban electorate from red to blue in presidential years 2008 and 2012. For decades before that, the suburbs were relentlessly Republican.

This year, support for local candidates by minorities down ballot helped Clinton at the top of the ticket, experts said.

In Lake County, Grayslake incumbents state Sen. Melinda Bush and state Rep. Sam Yingling had a strategy to connect with Hispanic voters, Democratic former state Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake said. Using old yearbooks, the Democrats identified likely Hispanic graduates in Avon Township and linked up with them and their families.

“What put them over the top in a traditionally Republican district was the help of Hispanic voters,” Morris said.

Meanwhile, Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg generated a lot of excitement among Indian-Americans as he ran for the 8th Congressional District, DuPage County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Peickert said.

Asian voters “came out heavily for Raja and that translated into a lot of support for Hillary,” Peickert said.

Republican Joseph Gomez, a tollway board member, said Trump's controversial remarks about Mexicans likely cost him Hispanic GOP voters. Gomez didn't back Trump and said, “I don't see how (the average Hispanic) could support him.”

Clinton picked up nearly 1.4 million of her 3 million Illinois votes in the suburbs, with Chicago adding 893,000 more. That urban bloc more than offset Trump winning 91 of Illinois' 102 counties and gave Clinton Illinois' 20 electoral votes. Clinton also might have benefitted from the cold shoulder Republican standard-bearers — such as Rauner and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk — gave Trump, with both refusing to attend his nominating convention in Cleveland.

Shunning the New York billionaire might have cost Illinois Republicans down ballot, said Mark Fratella, a Trump delegate and Addison Township GOP organizer.

Independent Trump supporters walked into the polling booth and said, “if the governor isn't embracing our candidate, we'll vote for Mr. Trump but that's going to be it. We're not going to help the party out,” he theorized. Incumbents including Kirk and 10th District U.S. Rep. Bob Dold lost to Democrats, and just one suburban legislative seat — the 63rd House in McHenry County, won by Steven Reick — flipped from Democrat to the GOP.

McHenry was the sole collar county that went red for Trump, showing 71,117 votes for him compared to 59,827 for Clinton.

“As a Republican, I feel like the state of Illinois is surrounded by the USA,” said McHenry County Board member Andrew Gasser, referring to the electoral college map. “I thought we would have done better for Mr. Trump, but we did what we could. Like Tip O'Neill used to say, 'all politics are local.'”

What put McHenry County in the GOP column was old-fashioned shoe leather, the Algonquin Township Republican Party chairman said.

“The Algonquin Township Republican Party had close to 100 volunteers. We nailed everything, we walked everything, we did all we could and it showed,” Gasser said.

Still, Illinois voters ended up with two Democratic U.S. senators and one additional Democratic congressman, Brad Schneider of Deerfield.

Will its blue leanings cost the state?

Morris thinks it won't hurt federal funding, noting Trump hails from New York City and is not anti-urban. “He and his family are much more urban than the Clintons ... he can't ignore the cities in America and hope to have the country be great again.”

Gomez pointed out Chicago's Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn't endeared himself to Trump, standing up in front of Trump Tower to denounce the billionaire and backing the removal of the city's Trump Plaza sign.

But he said he believes fellow Republicans Rauner and Trump need each other and will likely make amends. “It makes sense that they would be strong allies.”

Trump is not as heavy-handed as people think, Fratella said. “The region should not worry about any punitive action from the White House in terms of Illinois.”

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