Illinois primary voting numbers look good for Republicans 

Illinois held the nation’s first non-special primary election this year, and almost all the results are in.

The big story for national politics is the race for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat, now held by the inimitable Roland Burris. And the news is very good for Republicans.

North Shore suburban Congressman Mark Kirk won the Republican primary with 57% of the vote to 19% for conservative Patrick Hughes, while the Democratic race was much closer.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, long well ahead in the polls, won 39% to 34% for former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman. Giannoulias has been running mostly ahead of or even with Kirk in public polls, but there’s reason to believe he is beatable. He is young and articulate, but his family-owned bank, Broadway Bank, has made some loans to unsavory individuals, including convicted fraudster Tony Rezko (whom some of you will remember as the man who was involved with the Obamas in the purchase of their mansion in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood). The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already released a hard-hitting 60-second TV spot reminding voters of Giannoulias’s associations.

Kirk, in contrast, is a clean-as-a-whistle representative of the affluent North Shore suburbs, historically very Republican but in recent years trending Democratic on cultural issues; Kirk managed to win reelection by a 53%-47% margin in 2008 even as Barack Obama was carrying his district 61%-38% and his Democratic opponent was spending $3.5 million.

My gut tells me that Kirk is the kind of candidate who can attract something like traditional Republican support in the affluent suburbs of the North Shore, northwest Cook County and DuPage County. And that Giannoulias is not a wine that will travel well in Downstate Illinois. Downstate Illinois—that is, the 95 counties outside the seven-county Chicago metro area—voted for Obama by only 71,705 votes in 2008, and his policies are undoubtedly less popular there now than his aura was in 2008.

Illinois has an open primary; there is no party registration and voters can vote in whichever party’s primary they like. In Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago and its close-in suburbs, they tend to choose the Democratic primary in overwhelming numbers, because that’s where local officials are chosen; this year 556,983 voted in the Democratic primary in the closely contested race for Cook County board president, while only 134,375 voted in the Republican primary for the same office (I’m using figures with 98% of the returns in; the final numbers are not likely to be much different).

What do the turnout figures tell us? Overall turnout was not especially high, with the total turnout roughly the same as in 2006. The Republican share of turnout was higher than it has been since 1996, but not all that much higher than in several other years, and under 50% of the two-party turnout. The following table shows the turnout in Republican and Democratic primaries in recent years for offices when both parties had seriously contested races. As noted, the 2010 figures are based on 98% of precincts reporting.

Year and office Demo Repub total Repub %

2010 governor 896,202 761,247 1,657,449 46

2010 senator 885,268 736,167 1,621,405 45

2008 president 2,038,614 899,422 2,938,036 31

2006 governor 944,397 735,810 1,680,207 44

2004 senator 1,242,996 661,804 1,904,800 35

2002 governor 1,252,516 917,828 2,170,344 42

Barack Obama was a candidate in both the 2004 senate and 2008 presidential primary and, especially in the latter case seems to have boosted Democratic turnout (he got 1,318,234 votes in the 2008 primary, more than have the total voting in either party’s primary in these other contests). The Republican turnout this year was not spectacular; Democratic turnout was well below the other years, even 2006, when incumbent Governor Rod Blagojevich won a 3-1 victory over former Chicago Alderman Edwin Eisendrath (one could argue that he didn’t turn out to be a serious opponent).

I haven’t seen the county-by-county returns yet, but a comparison of the results for Cook County board president with those in the statewide races for governor and senator indicates that outside Cook County the Democratic turnout was only about 330,000, while Republican turnout was about 610,000. That’s a pretty big Republican advantage and suggests that, if Cook County turnout in the general election is low, Republicans have a very good chance of rolling up enough votes in the suburban Collar Counties and Downstate to prevail statewide.

The results in the races for the gubernatorial nominations seem unclear. Governor Pat Quinn, who succeeded to the office after Blagojevich’s resignation, leads state Comptroller Dan Hynes by some 7,000 votes, while Bob Brady leads Kirk Dillard for the Republican nomination by 503 votes.

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Michael Barone

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