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From the Right: Why Last Night Wasn’t A Republican Wave in Illinois

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The Republican Wave that swept the party to control in the US Senate and to record margins in the US House missed Illinois, as Democrats maintain their supermajorities in the General Assembly

by Justin Shimko

“Welcome to Red America.” “GOP Dominates Midterms.” “Republicans Ride Wave…”

Those headlines may define the national election results but they are a far cry of what happened in Illinois last night as it was more of the same one-party domination, save for Bruce Rauner’s election, Mike Bost upending Rep. Bill Enyart and Bob Dold retaking his House seat.

The dome on the Illinois State Capitol in Spri...

Rauner may have won the Gubernatorial Election, but State Republicans could weaken the Democrat’s hold on the Illinois State Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The party breakdown down ballot doesn’t indicate a wave of any kind as Tom Cross looks to keep his razor-thin margin for Treasurer, currently occupied by failed-governor candidate Dan Rutherford. Republican Judy Baar Topinka held onto her Comptroller seat while Democrats Lisa Madigan and Jesse White dominated over their opponents for Attorney General and Secretary of State, respectively.

But the biggest indicator that the “Republican Wave” blew over the Prairie State was in the State House and Senate elections. Despite pouring millions into the Illinois GOP organization, party chair Tim Schneider couldn’t translate that into a single pickup across the state while the Senate saw just one Democrat loss. That means House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate Leader John Cullerton still enjoy supermajorities in both chambers.

A lot can be said for the way districts are now laid out after the 2010 Census, how the Democrats hold a distinct advantage across Illinois, but that just bypasses the root of the problem: the state GOP has a messaging problem that turned out to be worse than what plagued the national party.

While Ruaner was able to push the message of shaking up Springfield, placing the blame of the state’s punishing tax policies and pension crisis squarely on the shoulders of Gov. Pat Quinn, that message did not resonate to voters when it came to deciding between their state representative and a party desperate to weaken Madigan’s hold in the state. Typically, this isn’t a problem for races as anti-incumbency messages easily trickle down to local races. But because of a fractured Republican Party (evidenced by blogs calling for “true conservatives” to vote for Quinn in protest of Rauner having moderate-to-liberal social positions) and an ineffective recruiting push for quality candidates, Rauner’s tone fell on deaf ears when it came to the local races.

Where to Go From Here

If Illinois Republicans want to gain ground in Springfield, they need to take a page out of the national party and recruit quality candidates while focusing on a message that can bring moderates into the fold. Candidates like Jim Moynihan, who is currently losing to State Rep. Michelle Mussman. Moynihan currently stands 647 votes shy of an upset with provisional ballots still out. While it does seem unlikely he will be able to overcome the deficit, it does show that a quality candidate with a strong message can challenge well-funded Democrats. And when the state GOP has a slate of quality candidates able to challenge Democrats in dozens of House and Senate races, the likelihood of Republicans making gains in the House and Senate increases greatly.

This is how the GOP made such great strides across the country. No longer did the National Republican Congressional Committee, and their Senate counterpart the National Republican Senatorial Committee, stay out of the primary races, recruiting and supporting candidates in a controversial move that proved beneficial last night as they took the Senate with 52 (and possibly 55 but likely 54) seats and gained the largest majority in the House since World War II.

Glimmers of hope did poke through this cycle, as the Chicago Republican Party managed to put together a slate of candidates in the city long dominated by Democrats. These weren’t fly-by-night candidates, either. Stefanie Linares, a Chicago attorney, took on Sen. Cullerton in the 3rd State Senate district and came up woefully short, 66-31. But her campaign was well-organized and she brought fresh ideas to the table, enabling her to earn the endorsement from the Chicago Tribune, a monumental step forward for an organization declared dead by nearly everyone, especially Chicago Republicans. With a strong message of fiscal responsibility and a decently-funded and organized operation, picking off a seat or two in the liberal bastion that is Chicago does not seem out of the question, especially on the North Side.

Until the state and local Republican organizations get behind quality candidates with a message that not only resonates statewide but also locally, we will likely see more and more elections where the governor’s seat is attainable while the local races remain Democrat strongholds.

Justin Shimko

Justin Shimko is an award-winning writer and political analyst. He began as a reporter in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily (rated as one of the best collegiate newspapers in the nation) and The Oklahoman, the statewide newspaper, winning awards from the CSPA and the Society of Professional Journalists. He later moved on to research and writing work for a number of political campaigns. His email is [email protected]

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