'Nothing is more important to me': Delegate candidates push petitions, pump up prospective voters in the suburbs
Wanted: Energetic people with sufficient chutzpah to walk up to complete strangers and start talking politics. Must like walking in the cold. No pay or recognition, but you do help choose the free world's next leader.
Who's in to be a delegate to the Democratic or Republican national conventions in 2020?
Myriad suburbanites, including Democrat Elliott Hartstein, for one.
"I can't think of a more important thing to be involved with than electing the president of the United States," said Hartstein, a former Buffalo Grove mayor and backer of Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.
Aurora Republican Raquel Mitchell shares the sentiment, if not the party.
"I really believe in the president. I believe in what he's doing," the Wheatland Township trustee said of incumbent Donald Trump. "Nothing is more important to me."
Filing takes place today and Friday for delegates running in the March 17 primary election.
With the wide-open field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, interest in being a delegate is so high that the Democratic Party of Illinois held training events across the state.
"How does it work?" IDP Executive Director Mary Morrissey asked potential delegates rhetorically at a session this fall in Aurora.
She explained delegates must be chosen by a presidential candidate, and she advised novices to reach out to campaigns. If slated, delegates are expected to volunteer, collect signatures, and pay to attend the convention on their dime.
It cost Democratic state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin about $2,200 to attend the 2012 Democratic National Convention, she told attendees. "But to be finally part of the casting of the vote ... it's an amazing experience," Castro said.
Out of more than 4,000 delegates going to the Democratic National Convention in July in Milwaukee, 184 will be from Illinois. Of those, 101 are elected from the state's 18 congressional districts with numbers determined by previous voter turnout tallies.
Illinois Republicans will send 65 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 54 chosen by voters. There are three GOP delegates from each congressional district.
Retired Cook County Circuit Judge Tony Iosco can't wait to cast another vote for Trump.
The president "resonates with the average American," said Iosco, a 2016 convention delegate. "People may not like him, but they like what he's doing. Unemployment is low and the stock market is booming."
As Mitchell circulates petitions, she finds Republicans are eager to talk about impeachment. "They hate what's going on in Washington D.C. with the president and are enthused about signing," she said.
Meanwhile, Democrats say folks are pumped about their choices.
Hartstein has met South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg three times.
"Mayor Pete's a very, very smart guy," Hartstein said. "He has the policy chops. And he's from a new generation. It's time to have a leader that can inspire and also be willing to make changes and take on challenges."
Democratic State Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates aims to be a delegate for former Vice President Joe Biden.
"You consider how he lost his first wife and daughter in a tragic accident and was somehow able to recover from that," Crespo said. "To me, that is telling. Then, he lost his older son Beau. A lesser person would have given up."
And he thinks Biden can heal political divides. Now, "we're a country of winners and losers. It shouldn't be that way."
During a social event at Draft Picks in Naperville last month, sponsored by the Trump campaign and state Republicans, Mitchell collected signatures as Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider rallied the crowd.
"This is Trump country," Schneider said, adding stakes are high in 2020 with local congressional seats up for grabs and a referendum on a state progressive income tax, in addition to the presidency.
"We have to fight Democrats all the way," Schneider said. "Are you all with me?"
Castro sounded a similar rallying cry at the delegate training session.
U.S. Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood "are in for a battle," she said. "The Trump base is going to come out so we need to come out harder for our candidates."
No need to tell Hartstein. "This probably is going be one of the most important elections in our lifetime," he said.