Illinois GOP’s focus on crime fell flat: Hinz column – Crain’s Chicago Business

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Needless to say, it didn’t work. Durkin lost at least four House seats and is stepping down as leader. Proft didn’t win a single race in which his People Who Play By the Rules PAC spent wads of packaging mogul Dick Uihlein’s money. Bailey grabbed all of 16.45% of the vote in Chicago, according to near-final, unofficial returns, and got clocked in the suburbs, especially DuPage County.

So, what happened?

Durkin candidly concedes he was “surprised” and called polling that suggested crime would be a big issue “wrong.” He theorizes that many voters, particularly in the suburbs, were motivated by other issues, notably abortion rights. That almost certainly is part of the answer.

Proft, in an equally candid email, offers a couple of theories.

The first: “Making personal safety the referendum question was the best play we had. It put Pritzker (and Lightfoot) on defense the entire race. It kept him focused on me rather than Bailey and it had the added benefit of broad bipartisan opposition–prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, et al.” So it worked, up to a point.

However, he continued, “At the end of the day, as in New York, there are not enough motivated voters, to the extent they exist at all, to make a change even with broad agreement on an issue that was essentially even with abortion in terms of animating votes (per a lot of polling).” Or as he put it earlier in the email, “Many of those Rs you think are in the suburbs aren’t. And many who are left are either fatalistic–about a lot more than Bailey (see the congressional and leg(islative) races)–or cowered into inaction by the Leftist mob’s vilification.”

Whew! Democratic strategists I talked to likely would point to that mix of strong feelings and blaming the voters as the reason why the crime strategy didn’t work.

Proft “doesn’t do meaningful research on voters and tailor messaging to it. He just figures out what will make Dick Uihlein get his rocks off,” says Tom Bowen, who currently is working for Lightfoot. “Voters have competing priorities. You can’t just say ‘crime, bad. BOO!’ and hope that works if you don’t credibly put forward a plan as an alternative. Also, you can’t divorce that from what’s going on elsewhere.”

But Proft points to one other thing he’s right about. Though the blue tide was wide on Tuesday, in Chicago at least, it was narrow—with total turnout likely to end up no more than 45%, the lowest for a gubernatorial race in at least 20 years.

All of that suggests the crime issue can move people, arguably more in a mayoral race in which people associate law-and-order issues with the city head more than they do with a governor. “Where are the cops?” is a much easier issue to get your arms around than the intricacies of SAFE-T or whatever you call that bill.

“I think crime will dominate the municipals,” says another Democratic consultant with city clients, Becky Carroll. In fact, “In all likelihood, the polling will show that this is the No. 1 issue across the city.”

So, maybe it’s the messenger rather than the message? I’d be shocked if crime isn’t an enormous issue here this winter. But I’ve been wrong before. They don’t call politics an art, not a science, for nothing.

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November 14, 2022 at 07:45AM

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