Trump, Clinton backers in suburbs taking nothing for granted
If there's one thing Hillary Clinton can count on in the race with Donald Trump, it's Illinois, pollsters say.
So why is middle-school teacher Mark Fratella, a Republican, giving a pro-Trump speech to Greek-American community leaders at a banquet hall in Addison?
And why is mother of five Kristina Zahorik, a Democrat, firing up the crowd at a luncheon fundraiser for Clinton in Crystal Lake?
The two local organizers are polar opposites politically but share one belief -- Illinois is in play come the presidential election Nov. 8, and anything could happen.
"It's like the hare and the tortoise," said Zahorik, a former top aide for U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. "People think Illinois doesn't matter ... that (Democrats) are so far ahead, they can sit it out or wait. We need to be more like the tortoise and keep doing the work."
Recent odds put Clinton ahead of Trump by double digits in her home state of Illinois. But those numbers could shift depending on the outcome of Monday's first of three presidential debates.
"Obviously it's a blue state -- but you never know what to expect," said Fratella, a Trump delegate at the July Republican National Convention. "This could be the year we turn it red. Chicago will be a real tough nut to crack, but we have very strong support in the collar counties. We're really targeting them."
In 2004, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties all voted Republican for President George W. Bush, though Cook County pushed Democrat John Kerry to an Illinois victory. But Democratic President Barack Obama turned the collar counties blue in 2008, by a spread of 5 to 20 percentage points. A majority of DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will County voters also voted for Obama in 2012.
That blue landscape defaulted to Republican in 2014 when Bruce Rauner, a moderate, ran for governor. And the March primaries were a romp for Trump, who took all five collar counties despite the crowded GOP field and cold shoulders from mainstream Illinois Republicans. Trump's racially charged remarks about halting Muslim immigration and comment that Mexico was sending rapists to the U.S. have drawn criticism from state GOP leaders like Rauner and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk. Many in the Illinois congressional delegation and county chairmen supported candidates such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the primary.
Fratella thinks Trump's immigration position boils down to a stronger border and tighter national security, for example, keeping track of foreigners who overstay their visas. "I don't view his stance on many of these things as hateful or bigoted. ... A lot of it is just pragmatic," said Fratella, who has met Trump several times.
He grew up in the Detroit suburbs where his autoworker father kept a picture of JFK on the wall. But the rise of another political icon, Republican Ronald Reagan, captured the allegiance of the younger Fratella. His first presidential campaign was U.S. Sen. Bob Dold's in 1996, and he's volunteered for every one since.
Fratella eventually moved to Elmhurst and linked up with the formidable Addison Township GOP organization.
"We have a very strong network of volunteers," said Fratella, who stumped for Trump at a United Hellenic Voters of America event last week. "We've got our own campaign. We don't necessarily need the infrastructure of a Kirk to help us out."
Fresh out of graduate school, Waukegan native Zahorik's first job was with Paul Simon, the bow-tied, plain-spoken, beloved Democratic senator who died in 2003. "I was young and completely naive about the fortunate position I held," she said.
Zahorik immersed herself in Beltway politics, then pivoted after her marriage. "I stuck my head down and raised a family in this beautiful community (Oakwood Hills, near Cary)."
With her oldest child 21 and youngest 12, Zahorik is back in the game as McHenry County Democratic Party vice chairwoman. Recently, she organized a fundraiser with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Crystal Lake.
Zahorik admires Clinton because she "spends a lot of time listening to people, which is not thought of as a useful leadership skill. I like her ability to see a problem and craft a solution."
Trump's brashness won't play in the suburbs despite McHenry County's Republican bent, Zahorik says.
"When there are good-quality, reasonable candidates, we (Democrats) do really well and when there are extreme candidates (Republicans) don't do as well."
Fratella is looking for synergies with Republicans who backed candidates other than Trump, who is expected in Bolingbrook for a fundraiser Wednesday. "We are all on board to prevent Hillary from winning. We can all get behind that regardless of where we started."