It’s not just Champaign County where early voting shows an unusually high number of people choosing Democratic ballots in the primary election.
Throughout central Illinois and the 13th Congressional District, election authorities report a greater-than-normal selection of Democratic ballots in pre-Election Day voting.
In McLean County — where Republican ballots outnumbered Democrats by 6-to-1 in 2014 — there have been more Democratic than Republican ballots taken this March, said County Clerk Kathy Michael. It’s the same in Bloomington, where there’s a separate election commission, and there have been 703 early and vote-by-mail votes for Democrats to 493 for Republicans.
In Sangamon County, where the primary vote four years ago was almost 5-to-1 Republican, there were 1,440 Democratic votes to 1,270 Republican votes as of Friday morning, said County Clerk Don Gray.
In Macon and Christian counties, where Republicans in non-presidential year primaries normally outnumber Democrats, it’s also a different story so far this year. And Macoupin County, a rare center of Democratic strength in the area, reports more Democratic than Republican voters, too.
And it’s hard to beat Champaign County, where as of Thursday night there were 4,046 Democratic ballots tabulated so far to 2,295 for Republicans. That’s in a county where the primary vote four years ago favored Republicans, 14,683 to 8,547.
There isn’t a single factor driving the Democratic turnout, election authorities say. In Macon County, it’s a two-way race for sheriff. In McLean County, there’s a highly visible county board contest. In Sangamon County, Gray said, the big-money Democratic gubernatorial primary is a lot more interesting to voters in the capital than the Republican version.
In Champaign County, it’s a variety of factors: county board primaries, the gubernatorial and attorney general races and the five-way race in the 13th Congressional District.
There’s also President Trump, says University of Illinois political scientist Chris Mooney.
“The thing that might be unique about this election and in particular the differential between the parties would be the Trump factor,” he said. “Just anecdotally it appears that the Democrats are more energized. Usually that does happen in the first mid-term election (after a new president is elected). You disappoint your fans and you really piss off the opponents. Even Ronald Reagan was down to about 42 (percent approval) in 1982. It’s a tough time.
“And it’s especially true when you’ve got a president like this one who is highly polarizing, very visible and everybody’s got an opinion on him. The odds are that he’s going to have an effect. Sure some people might know who (Gov.) Rauner is, maybe 60 percent. And most people don’t know who their state rep is. But they do know who Trump is and they have an opinion about Trump.”
Friends of Michael J. Madigan, one of the campaign committees of the head of the state Democratic Party, has invested a lot of money into ensuring that Jayne Mazzotti of Taylorville remains the state central committeewoman in the 13th Congressional District.
Mazzotti is challenged by Pamella Gronemeyer of Glen Carbon, who has said she is open to having someone besides Madigan head the state party.
Madigan’s campaign fund has spent at least $45,912 on printing and postage for Mazzotti.
It’s also running a “robocall” operation on her behalf, the most recent of which was a comical call last week from U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth contending that a vote for Mazzotti “is a vote against the extreme Trump agenda” and that Mazzotti “will stand up to Trump and speak up for us.”
This for a position that is a precinct committeeperson on a statewide basis, not for anyone who would ever be able to confront Donald Trump.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives said last week that an anti-Gov. Bruce Rauner campaign booklet her campaign mailed went to 550,000 Republican voters around the state.
At 68 cents apiece, the postage cost alone on that mailer was $374,000. That doesn’t include printing and handling costs.
“There are about 800,000 primary voters that we think will vote, but look, we’re a small campaign and we don’t have millions of dollars,” she said. “Don’t you like the old school? We think that primary voters actually care to know all the details and we thought this would resonate with them. It’s different than political mailers. We like being a little clever and a little different.”
The 40-page booklet, “The Governor You Don’t Know,” was written by Chris Cleveland of the Chicago Republican Party.
No matter who wins the Democratic nomination in the 13th Congressional District on Tuesday, they’ll start the general election race more than $1 million behind Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.
Davis reported having $1.072 million on hand on Feb. 28. He added about $90,000 during the period March 1-15, including $5,000 from Koch Industries.
Over in the very Republican 15th District, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, reported having raised more than $1 million since Jan. 1, 2017. One of the Democrats running in the district, Carl Spoerer of rural Mahomet, reported having raised $25,655 in the same period.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.