Does anyone remember when Southern Illinois was Democratic country?
As a poor, rural region with a legacy of labor strife, Southern Illinois was well suited for the Democratic Party’s message of uplifting the working man. As a result, it elected some of Illinois’s best-known Democrats, from Paul Powell to Paul Simon to Glenn Poshard.
As Barack Obama once noted, “Southern Illinois is the South.” Little Egypt was settled by migrants from Kentucky and Tennessee, so the Democrats down there were always more in tune with their Dixiecrat cousins than with the urban liberals in Chicago.
But as the Democrats abandoned their populist roots, and embraced socially liberal causes, they lost the Dixiecrats, and they lost Southern Illinois. In 1992, the region embraced fellow Southerner Bill Clinton, whose famous bus tour stopped in Vandalia. But in the Red vs. Blue realignment that followed, Southern Illinois became part of Red America.
Although still willing to elect conservative Democrats to local offices -- State Sen. Gary Forby’s countrified speeches are a highlight of any trip to the state capitol -- most Southern Illinois counties voted for John McCain over favorite son Barack Obama in 2008. According to a new poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, at Southern Illinois University, it’s the strongest region in the state for both Bill Brady and Mark Kirk.
In the statewide poll, Brady is leading Gov. Pat Quinn 38.4 percent to 29.8 percent, while Mark Kirk edges Alexi Giannoulias 37.3 percent to 36.8 percent. But in Southern Illinois, Brady is getting 50 percent of the vote, while Kirk is getting 46.4 percent. And 43.8 percent of Southern Illinoisans “strongly disapprove” of President Obama’s job performance -- more than in any other part of the state.
Pat Quinn’s effort to win Southern Illinois by putting a native daughter on the ticket has obviously been a failure. The liberal Sheila Simon is most appealing in the academic community of Carbondale, and even there, she’s not that appealing -- she lost a race for mayor in 2007.
As the band Alabama sang in “Song of the South,” “Daddy was a veteran, a southern Democrat; they oughta get a rich man to vote like that.” Now, you can get a rich man to vote like that. But not a Southerner.