Russ Stewart Looks into the Crystal Ball for Next Week’s Elections
The disgraced John Edwards, the Democrats’ 2004 candidate for vice-president, once mused that there are “two Americas” – rich and poor. That cliché can be applied locally: There are “two Chicagos” – white and non-white.
In a sample ballot prepared by the Cook County Democratic Party, which features President Barack Obama’s photo, county chairman Joe Berrios, the candidate for assessor, proclaims that Obama’s “work has just begun…keep his agenda on track.” And, Berrios adds, “the Republican smear machine is fully operational…(and) will turn back the progress” of Obama.
That literature is already in the dumpster behind every Northwest Side Democratic headquarters. “With all due respect,” said one area Democratic committeeman, Obama “has become poison among working-class voters. The level of hostility is astounding.”
Obama, in his inaugural address, said it “took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today.” On Nov. 3, after a night of blood and tears, Democrats will begin to sweat the 2012 election, when Obama will be on the ballot.
There are two salient truths:
First, in 2010, Illinois’ gargantuan 2008 Obama vote of 3,419,348 will shrivel. 2008’s turnout of 5.57 million will regress to a normal off-year turnout of 3.6 million. In Cook County, the 2008 turnout of 2.2 million will decline to 2006’s 1.35 million. That means far fewer Democratic votes.
Second, “undecided” voters invariably break against the incumbent or the incumbent party.
In the governor’s race, incumbent Pat Quinn (D) is still below 40 percent in most polls, while Bill Brady (R) is slightly above 40 percent. Independent Scott Lee Cohen is polling in the 10-15 percent range, and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney is getting 3-5 percent. Quinn has been relentlessly blasting Brady, but if half the undecided – 5-8 percent — break for Brady, he wins.
In the U.S. Senate race, both contenders – Mark Kirk (R) and Alexi Giannoulias (D) – are damaged goods. If voters had a “Return to Sender” line, it would surely prevail. Both candidates have significant character flaws, and neither has polled anywhere near 50 percent. Kirk, like Brady, is mired in the low 40s, but is ahead of Giannoulias. The undecided is larger – 10-15 percent. The Green and Libertarian Party candidates will amass 5-8 percent. Kirk wins if the gets half the undecideds.
Here are my Nov. 2 predictions:
U.S. Senate: Democrats have a 59-41 majority. Republicans will gain nine Democratic seats: Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin. They will hold open Republican seats in New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio, Alaska, Kansas and Kentucky. Prediction: It will be a 50-50 Senate.
In Illinois, where turnout will be around 3.5 million, the “magic number” is 1.6 million. The 2008 Senate race was won by Dick Durbin (D) 3,615,844-1,520,621 (67.8 percent), and Obama beat John McCain (R) 3,419,348-2,031,179 (61.9 percent). To win in 2010, Kirk needs 78 percent of the McCain vote, while Giannoulias needs just 47 percent of the Obama vote.
Surveys indicate that Republicans are more “energized” than Democrats, but Kirk loses unless 500,000 Obama backers defect to Kirk, or 1.8 million don’t vote. That’s possible. Giannoulias is fervently embracing Obama, who is cutting TV ads for him.
In 1998, an auspicious Republican year, Peter Fitzgerald (R) beat flawed incumbent Carol Moseley Braun (D) by 98,545 votes (50.4 percent), carrying the 96 Downstate counties by 328,264 votes, the five collar counties by 164,442 votes, and losing Cook County by 394,161 votes. Kirk must do likewise.
My prediction: Kirk will lose Cook County by 375,000, and prevail elsewhere by 390,000 – a 15,000-vote win.
Governor: Brady will replicate Judy Baar Topinka’s 2006 vote of 1,369,315, and add another 150,000 from his Downstate base. Prediction: In a 3.7 million turnout, Brady will beat Quinn by 80,000 votes (41 percent), with Cohen getting over 650,000 votes (17.5 percent), to Quinn’s 1,440,000 (39 percent). A Republican will win the contests for state treasurer and comptroller.
U.S. House: The Democrats’ 255-178 majority will evaporate. At present, 42 Democratic seats are rated as turnovers, including three in Illinois – giving the Republicans 220 seats. Another 34 are rated as “toss-ups” – an unenviable position for any incumbent. And another 53 Democratic seats are at risk.
A best-case scenario for Democrats: A 230-205 minority, losing 50 seats. A worst-case scenario: A hefty Republican majority of 255-180. My prediction: 250-185, an astounding Republican gain of 72, and the end of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reign.
A sidelight: At present, in the 14 southern states, with 145 congressional seats, Republicans hold a 82-63 majority. The Republicans will likely gain 24 seats in the region, giving them a 106-39 majority. Since 106 is nearly half the House majority, the Republican ascendancy looks permanent. After 2010, almost every white-majority southern district will be Republican; Democrats will be relegated to minority districts. A new “Solid South” has emerged.
In Illinois, where Democrats have a 12-7 edge in the congressional delegation, five seats are in play. It’s all about Obama. The key: In 2010, every Democrat’s vote will decline by 5-10 percent, and every Republican’s will spike by a like amount. That means Democrats that won in 2008 by under 60 percent are in jeopardy.
In the rural 11th District (Joliet, Ottawa, Kankakee), incumbent Debbie Halvorson (D), who won with 58 percent in 2008, will pay a price for her Obama fealty. She will lose to Adam Kinzinger (R). In the far south suburban 14th District (Fox River Valley: Aurora to Elgin), incumbent Bill Foster (D), who won with 58 percent in 2008, has also been pro-Obama. He will lose to Randy Hultgren (R).
In the western Illinois 17th District, which meanders from Rock Island to Decatur, along the Mississippi River, pro-Obama incumbent Phil Hare (D), who was unopposed in 2008, is in trouble. He will lose to Bobby Schilling (R).
On the cusp are the 8th (McHenry County) and 10th (Cook County’s North Shore) districts, represented by Melissa Bean (D) and Kirk, respectively. The pro-Obama Bean won by 61 percent in 2008. Kirk eked out a 14,802-vote (53 percent) win in 2008 over Dan Seals, who ran as an Obama champion. Seals faces Bob Dold (R), and is trying to distance himself from the president. Back in 1976, Abner Mikva (D) beat Sam Young (R) by 201 votes. It will be equally close in 2010. Prediction: Dold wins.
Illinois Senate: With their 37-22 majority, Senate President John Cullerton and his Democrats have a veto-proof three-fifths majority. That will be history.
At least 6 Democratic seats are at risk: Mike Bond (31st), from Lake County; Mike Noland (22nd), from Elgin; Deanna Demuzio (49th), from Carlinville; A.J. Wilhelmi (43rd), from Joliet; Toi Hutchinson (40th), from Kankakee; and appointed John Mulroe (10th), from Chicago’s Northwest Side.
As detailed in last week’s column, more than $1 million will be spent by both parties to capture Jim DeLeo’s seat, to which Mulroe was appointed. Alderman Brian Doherty (41st), the Republican, is being hammered for his pro-Daley council votes. Mulroe is being excoriated for holding “three patronage jobs” generating $150,000 in income. Prediction: Democratic organizations in the 45th and 38th wards will not deliver more than 55 percent for Mulroe. Doherty wins by more than 500 votes. The next Senate will be 32-27 Democratic.
Illinois House: Speaker Mike Madigan’s (D) 70-48 majority will take a hit, the question is how much. At least 12 Democratic seats are in play, and the 17th District (Glenview) district of outgoing Republican Beth Coulson could flip. Prediction: Republicans will gain a net of 9 seats, shrinking the imperious Madigan’s majority to 61-57.
Cook County Assessor: Mayor Rich Daley’s retirement sucked the oxygen out of Independent Forrest Claypool’s campaign. Claypool has failed to ignite voters, and has failed to construct a viable coalition of anti-Obama conservatives and pro-Obama (but anti-Machine) liberals. Berrios, of Puerto Rican heritage, is clinging tightly to Obama’s cloak. His strategy is to appeal to the party’s black and Hispanic base, and have white committeemen deliver 40-50 percent in their wards. “All Joe (Berrios) cares about is electing himself,” said the committeeman. White committeemen will ignore Berrios.
Prediction: In Cook County, blacks comprise 30 percent of the registered vote, and Hispanics 7 percent. In a one-on-one, Claypool would win. But with the Republican drawing 15 percent, Claypool will fall short by 50,000 votes.
Cook County Board President: The putrid stink of Todd Stroger’s (D) reign is wafting away. But Republicans won’t benefit. Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, the Democratic nominee, is a black woman with no scandals and no tie to Stroger. “She will raise taxes,” said Republican Roger Keats, a former state senator who has run a valiant campaign. He needs 25 percent of the black vote, and won’t get it. Prediction: Preckwinkle wins with over 60 percent.
Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer