Primary surprise: Dems pull more ballots than Republicans in 3 traditional GOP counties

Heading into Tuesday's primary, it seemed inevitable Democratic leaders in DuPage County were going to ask some of their party's 12 county board nominees to drop out before the November election.

The strategy - a response to decades of Republican dominance - would allow the party to focus its resources on the strongest candidates in districts where it had the best chance of winning seats on an 18-person board that features 17 Republicans.

Then something happened that hasn't occurred in the traditional GOP stronghold in a decade: More Democrats voted in DuPage than Republicans. There were 82,943 Democratic ballots cast countywide during the primary, according to unofficial results, compared to 72,843 by Republicans.

DuPage wasn't the only place to experience the shift: Democrats in Lake and Kane counties also pulled more ballots than Republicans.

.Click here to view our interactive map comparing primary results in a new window.

That turnout has the DuPage Democratic Party talking about a "Blue Wave" on its website and Chairman Robert Peickert saying the party may abandon the idea of focusing on only a few county board races.

"Democrats are very energized," Peickert said. "I think they are ready to make a big move in November nationally, statewide and here in DuPage."

Kane County Democratic Chairman Mark Guethle says he saw the change coming.

In his county, the number of Democratic primary voters jumped to 36,361 this year compared to 6,327 in 2014, according to a Daily Herald analysis of unofficial results. At the same time, the number of Republican primary voters dropped to 30,910 from 36,951 in 2014.

"There's been a huge grass-roots movement in Kane County and the surrounding area for the past year," Guethle said. "There's a lot of people engaged."

Phillip Hardy, an associate professor of political science at Benedictine University in Lisle, said the primary numbers may be a sign the Democratic wave is coming.

"People still feel like they've got a fat lip from November 2016," said Hardy, director of the school's Center for Civic Leadership. "They feel like democracy is at risk. That's a good mobilizer."

Hardy said he expects "energized" Democrats to come out in the general election because of their strong opposition to the Trump Administration.

At the same time, there are signs that moderate Republicans are becoming "frustrated by some of the Trump stuff," he said.

State Sen. Terry Link, chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, said both Republicans and Democrats are upset about what's going on in Washington, D.C., and in the governor's chair in Springfield.

In his county, 59,173 Democratic ballots were pulled Tuesday compared to 38,211 Republican ballots, according to unofficial results.

"This is like what's going on nationally," Link said. "You saw it in Alabama. You saw it in Pennsylvania. People are saying, 'Enough is enough.'

"If it keeps up like this, there's going to be a big message sent in November," Link said.

GOP: Not so fast

Lake County GOP Chairman Mark Shaw has seen the primary numbers, too, but says he's not concerned.

"The Republicans will vote in November like they always do," Shaw said. "They tend to have higher turnouts in governors' races than the Democrats do in off-year elections. I think Bruce Rauner will get elected governor. I think our countywide officials in Lake County will get re-elected. And I think (U.S. reps) Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren will do fine in Lake County."

Shaw said there were fewer Republican voters in the primary because there were no compelling races to motivate them.

"Of course the Democrats would have a higher turnout in this particular cycle because six people were running for governor," he said. "They also had eight people running for attorney general."

In comparison, the Republicans had very few competitive primary races.

"We projected we were going to be way down," said Brian Krajewski, chairman of the DuPage Republican Party. "We didn't have many contested races."

Krajewski said there also are indications that many Republicans pulled Democratic ballots to vote against one of the governor candidates.

"They were pulling Democratic ballots because they didn't want J.B. Pritzker," he said.

Nevertheless, Kane Republican Party Chairman Kenneth Shepro said the number of Democrats who voted during the primary - and the number of Republicans who didn't - is "a cause for concern."

"The Republican Party has to get its act together and come back together and recapture some of the enthusiasm we had that allowed us to win Congress and win the White House," Shepro said.

He said the days of Republicans dominating in Kane, Lake and DuPage are over, so the GOP must focus on recruiting strong candidates if it wants to win elections.

"We have to earn the support of voters," Shepro said. "We have to continue the message that much of the problems in the state of Illinois are the result of overwhelming Democratic power in Springfield."

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