What presidential candidates have going in Illinois
A month before Illinois' primary day, Democrats are holding events to organize supporters here and Republicans are eyeing the state as a potential kingmaker that could help put a candidate over the top in the race for delegates.
Voters have started casting ballots by mail and voting in person in limited locations ahead of Illinois' March 15 primary.
"The election is now," said Republican Ted Cruz's Illinois co-chairman, Chris Cleveland.
Case in point: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit Chicago Wednesday for a get-out-the-vote rally, a move to boost her momentum in Illinois after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defeated her in New Hampshire by a wide margin. Sanders' campaign had an Illinois kickoff rally on Saturday.
Most people will still vote on primary day, and Cruz is set to appear at a major GOP event a few days ahead of that, on March 11 in Rolling Meadows.
There's little doubt other candidates will start lining up appearances, too. A Springfield rally featuring Donald Trump packed an arena late last year, foreshadowing his New Hampshire win and Iowa runner-up finish.
Along with Cruz and Trump, former Florida Gov. Bush, retired surgeon Ben Carson, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all have filed full slates of delegates in Illinois.
Local supporters are planning and preparing even as the national campaigns face South Carolina, Nevada and the March 1 barrage of so-called Super Tuesday primary campaigns first.
If the field narrows before Illinois' primary, a victory here could put a GOP finalist candidate over the top. Or, if the remaining candidates split the big states and their delegate bounties, the party could be further fractured going into the summer's nominating convention.
Several candidates, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, will have large slates of delegates on the Illinois ballot even though they've left the race, showing that candidates had to prepare for the Illinois election long before votes will be cast here.
With the possibility more could bail in the coming weeks, it could be dangerous for an Illinoisan -- especially a Republican -- to vote early, Lake County Chairman and Bush delegate Aaron Lawlor said. He's heard from voters who want to hold off longer. "They don't want to vote for somebody that might not be in the race in Illinois," he said.
But campaigns like early voters.
Organized campaigns can send voters mail ballot applications and then track whether they've voted, giving the campaigns a keen sense of the success of their get-out-the-vote efforts. State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican and Rubio backer, says it leaves less to chance March 15.
"Then you know the vote is in," Oberweis said.
Oberweis and Lawlor typify the Rubio and Bush campaigns they represent, in that both presidential candidates have big names in Illinois politics on their delegate lists. Bush's includes Gov. Jim Edgar and former House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, among others. Rubio's camp counts a large contingent of state lawmakers as backers, led by state Sen. Mike Connelly of Lisle.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a lot of recognizable names, too, like Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
Cruz showed in Iowa he can create a meticulous organization to try to get voters to participate, and Trump has the crowd-drawing gravity that has eclipsed more traditional campaigns.
Rubio might be getting an Illinois boost via another campaign's loss. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's campaign manager, Chip Englander, joined Rubio's staff when Paul dropped from the race. Englander has experience winning statewide in Illinois. He was Gov. Bruce Rauner's 2014 campaign manager.
A different Midwestern governor hopes to get a boost here, but survival is key. State Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove was in New Hampshire last week for Kasich, who Sandack says could stand out in Illinois if he makes it until March 15.
"I've been hoping he gets to Illinois. I think his results in New Hampshire make it a better opportunity," Sandack said. "South Carolina will be a challenge. We've got to keep an eye on what the next step is."
On the Democratic side, Clinton supporters say she has two key things going for her in Illinois. First, she was born and raised here. Clinton grew up in Park Ridge.
"We have phone banks going almost every night in my office and other offices around the state that are making calls for her," said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat who represents Clinton's home congressional district. "I know that Hillary and the Clinton campaign are taking absolutely nothing for granted."
Clinton also has a lead among so-called superdelegates -- elected officials and party leaders whose support for a candidate doesn't depend on the popular vote.
Illinois is set to send more than 180 delegates to the convention, and about 25 of them are superdelegates.
According to an Associated Press survey in November, 13 of the superdelegates have committed to Clinton. Since then, Senate President John Cullerton announced he will support Clinton.
Both U.S. Reps. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, and Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said they will support Clinton.
"I know that Secretary Clinton shares my commitment to strengthening the middle class and building on this economic growth," Foster said.
Sanders doesn't have any committed superdelegates, but his backers say his candidacy keeps picking up more support. It was his close second-place finish in Iowa and big win in New Hampshire that has a lot of observers predicting he's in the race to stay, making it more likely Illinois will be in play for the Democrats.
"As Sen. Sanders himself has said, we are starting a political revolution that will bring new people into the system and generate real reform in our political process," said Clem Balnoff, state director for the Sanders campaign in Illinois. "We are certain that as the election plays out, superdelegates will follow the lead of their constituents and not undermine the election results."
Sanders won by a wide margin in the New Hampshire primary last week, with 60 percent of the vote to Clinton's 38 percent. But the number of committed delegates for each candidate ended up even at 15 each because at least six of the state's eight superdelegates had committed to Clinton.
Things can change, though. In the 2008 campaign, Clinton was outpacing then-Sen. Barack Obama in superdelegates early in the campaign. But as Obama's campaign gathered steam, he prevailed.
How the presidential primary works in Illinois
The Democratic and Republican parties in Illinois divvy up their convention delegates based on the March 15 primary results differently.
For Democrats, the primary vote determines 102 delegates. The party uses a formula to split delegates based on how much of the vote each wins.
For Republicans, the primary vote picks 54 delegates. Voters pick delegates in each congressional district directly. Each delegate is aligned with a particular candidate for president.