Why DuPage Democrats may ask some county board nominees to drop out of race

Some Democrats who win their party's nomination for DuPage County Board seats in the March 20 primary may drop out before the November general election - and that's the way party leaders want it.

To improve their chances of electing at least some candidates to the Republican-dominated board, the DuPage Democratic Party may ask some of its nominees for 12 available seats to step aside.

It's part of a strategy to focus the party's resources on its strongest candidates in districts where it has the best chance of winning seats on the 18-person board that now features 17 Republicans.

DuPage Democratic Chairman Robert Peickert says party leaders will review vote totals after the primary to decide whether to support both nominees selected by voters for each of six county board districts or to support just the top vote-getters in some districts and encourage others to withdraw.

"We have to look at the numbers to decide what our best strategy is," Peickert said Monday. "Is there a district where it makes sense to run one person? Maybe.

"Would I like to get 12 elected? Absolutely," Peickert added. "But we have to do our analysis to decide if that's our best strategy. If it is, we'll run two in every district."

Peickert stressed the party can't force anyone to withdraw.

Still, several candidates told the Daily Herald they were asked to sign a "pledge" last fall to support the so-called "one candidate strategy."

Elizabeth Chaplin, the only Democrat on the county board, said candidates have been aware of the strategy since last summer.

While she didn't sign the pledge, Chaplin said she likely will step aside if she's not the top vote-getter among the three Democrats seeking her party's nod for two District 2 seats.

The challenge, she said, is that Republicans normally pull about 20,000 ballots in DuPage primaries while Democrats pull only 5,000. If those numbers hold this year - and there are indications they might based on the number of campaign signs and the number of DuPage politicians who marched in recent parades - the Democrats' chances of winning any board seat will drop dramatically unless they focus their efforts on a smaller number of races.

"We can have more candidates on the ballot and lose or fewer candidates on the ballot and have a better chance of winning," Chaplin said.

While the plan was known in Democratic circles, it didn't gain much public attention until John Basco, one of three Democrats seeking two seats in District 3, posted it on social media.

Basco said he originally agreed to step down if he finished second in the primary, but has since changed his mind.

"If I knock on doors and ask people to vote for me, I feel obligated to run in November," he said. Agreeing to step aside, he said, "is not who I am and I'm not going to do it."

Several other candidates said they signed the pledge, including Sheila Rutledge and John Maguire, two of three District 6 candidates.

Rutledge said she believes in the strategy, "but none of it is hard and fast."

If a large number of DuPage Democrats vote on March 20 and the picture brightens for November, she said, "then the strategy will go out the window."

Maguire said he still may drop out if he finishes second, "but I'd have to take a look at the numbers in the primary."

Peickert said all the Democrats running for county board are qualified, intelligent and energetic.

But they still face an uphill climb. In November 2016, when Hillary Clinton easily defeated Donald Trump in DuPage, Chaplin was the only Democrat to win a county board seat - and then only by a razor-thin margin over her Republican challenger.

"These off-year elections are generally not our best years," Peickert said. "So it can't be just let's run everybody and hope. We have to have a strategy."

Elizabeth Chaplin is the only Democrat on the 18-member DuPage County Board.
John Basco, a Democrat who's running for his party's nomination for one of two DuPage County Board seats in District 3, says he's no longer willing to drop out before the general election if he finishes second in the three-way race
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