Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why the Collar Counties are Trending GOP

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Posited: the collar counties are going GOP.

    Reason: Mark Kirk and Bill Brady are appealing to a timeless suburban value -- fiscal responsibility. And even the Democrats know this is true.

    To wit: a recent poll from liberal supersite Daily Kos shows Mark Kirk with a 41-38 lead over Alexi Giannoulias, and Bill Brady beating Pat Quinn 39-35. If you look a little deeper, you’ll see why the two Republicans are winning in this blue state: both Kirk and Brady have huge leads in the collar counties.

    Kirk leads 62-19, while Brady leads 63-13. For the last 20 years, suburbia’s shift toward the Democratic Party has been an important narrative in Illinois politics, which was once defined by the competition between Democratic Chicago and its Republican suburbs. But Kirk and Brady appear to be bringing those voters back to their ancestral home in the Republican Party.

    The Clinton Administration’s moderate politics — signing NAFTA and reforming welfare — helped make suburbia’s well-to-do white homeowners comfortable with the Democratic Party. Ruy Teixeira, co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority, identified the Chicago area as an “ideopolis” whose professionals benefited from the prosperity of the Clinton years, especially the shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. As a result, suburban Cook County has become “irretrievably Democratic,” Teixeira wrote.

    The change in suburban voting patterns spread to the collar counties. Just look at Lake County, where Kirk lives.

    Lake County was once a rural preserve of dairy farms, resort cottages, and WASPy North Shore enclaves. But as urbanization began creeping up from Chicago, so did Democratic vote totals. It is now the state’s quintessential swing county.

    In 1996, Bill Clinton won Lake County by 166 votes. The county voted twice for George W. Bush (he squeaked by with 49.9 percent in 2000, and 50.5 percent in 2004), but it dumped the archconservative congressman Philip Crane in 2004, replacing him with Democrat Melissa Bean. Barack Obama beat John McCain there, 59-39.

    Compared to Alexi Giannoulias, whose family can’t run a bank, and Pat Quinn, who can’t balance a budget, Kirk and Brady look like two guys you’d trust to invest your retirement fund.

    Add that to the fact that Rod Blagojevich reawakened suburbia’s traditional mistrust of Chicago politicians, and you can understand why the suburbs are returning to their role of winning elections for the GOP.