The Land of Lincoln Joins the Party of Lincoln

The Land of Lincoln doesn’t have a lot of influence in the Party of Lincoln.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Illinois Republicans Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant won four presidential elections in a row. Since then, the party hasn’t nominated an Illinoisan for president or vice president. In the last 50 years, the Republicans have become a conservative, state’s rights, Southern-oriented party. As a result, the middle-of-the road, Midwestern state that produced a president who used federal power to crush the South has found itself outside the main current of the Republican Party. It’s true that an Illinoisan, Dennis Hastert, was speaker of the House, but Hastert was installed in that post by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who needed a Yankee for camouflage.

Also, Illinois traditionally holds its presidential primary in March, after the must-win states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (The 2008 primary was in February, but that was to help Barack Obama on the Democratic side.) Sen. Mark Kirk thinks changes in the GOP’s nominating process will finally make Illinois relevant in choosing a presidential candidate. The party is switching from a winner-take all system to a system in which delegates are awarded proportionally. Also, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are tied in the polls.

“Initially we though the primary would be over, largely by the end of January or beginning of February,” Kirk said. “Now, if you look at the numbers, I think the Republican contest will likely last at least through the first week of April, meaning the March 20th Illinois primary will have a critical role in deciding who our nominee is and who the next president of the United States will be.”

Another reason a late-voting state like Illinois hasn’t been influential is that, when it comes to choosing Republican candidates, no state is influential. The Republican primaries aren’t nominating contest, they’re confirmations of the party’s favorite. The Republicans always have a guy who’s next in line for the presidency, and he always wins. From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George Bush to Bob Dole to another George Bush to John McCain, there’s never an unknown who rises from obscurity to the presidency. We can usually predict the Republican nominee before the Iowa Caucuses.

In 2012, it’s likely to be Kirk’s candidate, Mitt Romney. The best Illinois can do is give him the delegate count he needs to win the nomination.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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