Despite being dealt a bad hand in redistricting, Illinois Republicans up until several months ago were giddy about their chances in November, hoping to ride a red wave to victory in suburban legislative districts and swingy congressional districts.
On paper, they had reason for optimism — inflation has been exorbitant and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings low. Not to mention the typical penalty the party in power pays in a midterm election.
But, two months out, there’s a growing body of evidence that this “red wave” may not reach shore, at least to the extent once promised by state and national Republicans.
Several variables have thrown off typical election year calculus. Most obvious is the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade, thus ending the constitutional right to an abortion. More than a dozen states have since enacted near-total abortion bans.
And then there’s the elephant in the room, specifically the last Republican president — Donald Trump, whose potential legal trouble threatens to distract from what Republicans view as winning issues such as inflation and the economy.
It’s not just anecdotal. Democrats have been overperforming in special elections ever since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision came down in late June.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Republicans overperformed their expected margins in special elections by two points before Dobbs. In the elections since, Democrats have overperformed by about nine points.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, echoing many Democrats nationally, said at a press conference with Planned Parenthood officials Tuesday that abortion rights are on the ballot in November.
“The right wing may have taken away abortion rights from half of all Americans," Pritzker said. "But they’ve unleashed a tsunami of determined women voters and their allies who will lift up pro-choice candidates and take down the ultra conservative fundamentalists this November.”
If the red wave doesn’t come in Illinois, what would that look like?
It would likely mean that some open congressional races Republicans thought were in reach, such as the central and southern Illinois-based 13th Congressional District, are won by Democrats.
It could also mean that Democrats hold the 17th Congressional District in northwestern Illinois, which is currently represented by the retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, but is widely viewed as a biggest pickup opportunity for Republicans in the state.
On the state side, it could mean that legislative Democrats avoid an electoral wipeout in the suburbs, where it’s been far from certain if the party’s Trump era gains are permanent.
Putting the Dobbs decision aside, there’s a belief among some GOP insiders that the party did not put itself in the best position to ride a national red wave with the nomination of state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, for governor.
Bailey, a downstate farmer, is a conservative who has not moderated his positions as many Republicans have done in the past to appeal to suburban voters.
In fact, he’s doubled down on comments referring to Chicago as a "hell hole" for its levels of crime. And he’s had to answer for past statements, such as comparing abortion to the lives lost in the Holocaust.
It doesn’t help either that Republicans, for the most part, are at a significant financial disadvantage, with Democratic legislative party committees dwarfing the amount raised by their GOP counterparts.
Then there’s the governor’s race, in which Pritzker, a self-funding billionaire, has unlimited funds at his disposal. He reported more than $60 million cash on hand at the end of the last fundraising quarter.
Bailey, on the other hand, had just $364,000 in the bank as of the end of June. However, he did receive some good news earlier this week. Richard Uihlein, the megadonor who gave $9 million to Bailey’s campaign during the primary, donated $1 million.
To be clear, $1 million is nothing to sneeze at. But in the context of a statewide race in the nation’s sixth-largest state when you’re running against a billionaire, it’s pretty small.
For some Republicans, it is a case of what could have been.
Ken Griffin, formerly the state’s wealthiest man, vowed to spend upwards of $200 million to fund a slate to defeat Pritzker and other Democratic statewide elected officials.
Of course, Griffin’s gubernatorial candidate, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, came in a distant third place in the GOP primary and the billionaire later packed his bags for Florida vowing not to fund Bailey.
Not to say that Irvin would have defeated Pritzker, but the money spent on that race could have had a positive down ballot effect for Republicans.
Now, just over two months out from Election Day and weeks from early voting commencing, Illinois Republicans may need to hope for a course correction on the national climate.
This would mean that the post-Dobbs effect of ginned up Democratic enthusiasm wears off and voters turn their attention to kitchen table issues like high gas prices.
In a wave year, parties will win some elections simply because of the climate. But candidate quality and resources still matter. They can ensure a party takes full advantage of a favorable climate or that it falls short.
Soon enough, it will be determined if the red wave reaches shore nationally. And, in turn, if Illinois Republicans can ride it to maximum effect.
Special session looking more unlikely
Immediately following the Supreme Court’s late June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Pritzker called for a special legislative session "in the coming months" to consider additional pro-choice legislation.
Gun control legislation was also added to the list following the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park.
However, prospects for such as session before the November election appear to be dimming.
Democratic legislators have been meeting in working groups over the past month to craft legislation to address topics like abortion, guns, mental health and social media/online extremism.
But when asked Tuesday, Pritzker did not sound confident that anything would be ready to go soon despite his earlier pledge for a special session.
One roadblock? Any legislation with an immediate effective date needs a supermajority to pass beyond May 31. This means the threshold to pass legislation increases from 60 to 71 in the House and 30 to 36 in the Senate.
Democrats control the chambers 73-45 and 41-18, respectively.
“In special session, when things need to be passed with a supermajority, that’s harder than doing it with a simple majority," Pritzker said. "So there are some things that could be done with a supermajority, some things that take a simple majority. So again, the legislature is working through all those things.”
To translate, it’s likely the votes are not there right now to pass certain measures, such as an assault weapons ban. This could change, however, once the threshold to pass legislation drops back to simple majorities on Jan. 1.
Lawmakers will be back for their annual veto session in November following the elections.
Illinois Farm Bureau endorses Deering, King
The Illinois Farm Bureau’s political arm endorsed two Republicans running in open downstate congressional seats earlier this week.
The group announced its support for Esther Joy King over Democrat Eric Sorensen in the 17th Congressional District, which includes Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, the Quad Cities and Rockford.
They also gave the nod to Regan Deering over Democrat Nikki Budzinski in the 13th Congressional District, which stretches from East St. Louis to Champaign-Urbana, picking up Decatur and Springfield in between.
The endorsements are not much of a surprise — the group typically supports more Republicans than Democrats for state and federal office. Though it is a change in the 17th as Bustos was endorsed by the group several times.
Deering is the granddaughter of Dwayne Andreas, the industrialist who transformed Archer Daniels Midland into a global agribusiness giant.
Contact Brenden Moore at 217-421-7984. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13
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September 1, 2022 at 06:17AM