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Chicago Doesn't Dominate Illinois Politics

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Chicago Doesn't Dominate Illinois Politics

In Decatur this weekend, I heard another Downstater complain about Chicago’s dominance over Illinois politics.

Pat Quinn only won four counties,” she said. “Chicago should be like the District of Columbia. It should be removed from the rest of the state. Or there should be an Electoral College so Chicago doesn’t get to choose the governor all by itself.”

Chicago is not the reason Downstaters aren’t winning elections. Chicago used to be far more influential in state elections than it is now. During the 1950s, the city had 41 percent of Illinois’ population. The governor for most of that decade was William Stratton, Republican of Ingleside.

Today, Chicago’s voting strength is at its lowest level since the 1880s. The city has only 21 percent of Illinois’ population. And since we have a higher proportion of children and immigrants than the rest of the state, we cast only 17 percent of the votes in this year’s election.

So why does the rest of Illinois suddenly resent our supremacy? Because we’ve become more Democratic, and they’ve become more Republican.

Let’s look at the fabled 1960 election, when Richard J. Daley allegedly stole Illinois for John F. Kennedy. The Chicago Machine was at the height of its powers, but Richard M. Nixon still got 35 percent of the vote in Chicago. Today, a Republican can only dream of those numbers. Bill Brady won a pathetic 17 percent of the Chicago vote.

“Chicago and Cook County are becoming more, not less, Democratic,” writes Nadig Newspapers columnist Russ Stewart. At the same time, he notes, “[a] political realignment is under way Downstate. The faces of the Democratic Party (Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Hillary Clinton) have become anathema to rural Illinoisans, as has the Democrats’ pro-tax, big spending, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage and pro-gun control agenda.”

The Republicans used to be able to count on a big turnout in the Cook County suburbs, which defined themselves politically by their loathing of Daley’s Machine. But as the GOP’s center of gravity has shifted toward the South and the mountain West, suburban voters have turned away, repelled by the party’s stands on gun control, abortion, and the role of religion in politics. The Chicago suburbs have traditionally been the battleground of Illinois politics, mediating between liberal Chicago and conservative Downstate. These days, Democrats are winning the battle.

The problem isn’t that Chicago has too many votes. It’s that Republicans can’t sell their rural, right-wing message to a moderate, urbanized state. Political gadfly Dan Proft has it right: “After losing three gubernatorial elections in a row to the corrupt and the incompetent, it is tempting for Illinois Republicans to say, ‘What the heck is wrong with the voters of Illinois?’ when they should be asking, ‘What the heck is wrong with the Illinois Republican Party?’”

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