Amid talk of wave, Dems turn­ing tide in sub­urbs

Votes cast there will be key in shap­ing Illi­nois’ im­me­di­ate fu­ture

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Pear­son, Mike Riopell and Pa­trick M. O’Con­nell

In 1995, the sub­urbs were the cen­ter of Illi­nois’ Repub­li­can uni­verse, the bu­colic back­yards the home of the lead­ers of the state leg­is­la­ture as they strove to drive an agenda as a po­lit­i­cal force to be reck­oned with for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury later, it is the Democrats who have ad­vanced in col­lar coun­ties that were once the Repub­li­can fire­wall to Chicago’s mas­sive Demo­cratic vote — a con­flu­ence of chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, un­cer­tain GOP mes­sag­ing and a par­ti­san map­mak­ing process.

While Democrats talk of a “blue wave” sweep­ing na­tion­ally as Elec­tion Day ap­proaches on Tues­day, it’s clear they’ve al­ready be­gun to turn the tide by en­croach­ing into the tra­di­tional GOP-lean­ing sub­urbs. The votes cast there will be key in de­ter­min­ing Illi­nois’ im­me­di­ate fu­ture,

with po­ten­tial long-term con­se­quences for both po­lit­i­cal par­ties as bal­lots are cast for gov­er­nor, the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and de­cid­ing the makeup of the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

And among those subur­ban ar­eas, there is no place more cen­tral to Illi­nois’ fate than DuPage County, where there has been an evo­lu­tion po­lit­i­cally, ide­o­log­i­cally and de­mo­graph­i­cally.

“DuPage is re­ally the epi­cen­ter” of this elec­tion, said Christo­pher Mooney, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who is part of the Univer­sity of Illi­nois’ In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­ment and Pub­lic Af­fairs, cit­ing myr­iad con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive races as well as its in­flu­ence on statewide con­tests in­clud­ing gov­er­nor, where Demo­crat J.B. Pritzker is look­ing to oust first-term Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The state’s most pop­u­lous county out­side of Cook, with more than 930,000 peo­ple, DuPage al­ways was known as a bas­tion of Re­pub­li­can­ism in Illi­nois — the sub­urbs tak­ing off in pop­u­la­tion as the end of the land­ing strip for white flight out of Chicago af­ter World War II.

By the mid-1990s, GOP leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties el­e­vated Lee Daniels of Elmhurst to speaker of the Illi­nois House and James “Pate” Philip of Wood Dale to Illi­nois Se­nate pres­i­dent. An­other prod­uct of the Gen­eral Assem­bly, stal­wart con­ser­va­tive Henry Hyde of Bensenville, chaired the U.S. House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

To­day, Daniels’ state House dis­trict is rep­re­sented by Deb Con­roy and Philip’s state Se­nate dis­trict by Tom Culler­ton, both Villa Park Democrats seek­ing re-elec­tion.

The 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict seat Hyde held un­til mak­ing way for Peter Roskam in 2007 is one of the top tar­geted seats for a Demo­cratic takeover through chal­lenger Sean Cas­ten of Down­ers Grove. Much of Hyde’s old ter­ri­tory in east­ern DuPage is now rep­re­sented by Democrats — U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley of Chicago and Raja Kr­ish­namoor­thi of Schaum­burg — and former Repub­li­can Rep. Har­ris Fawell, who rep­re­sented what is now Roskam’s 6th Dis­trict, has a Cas­ten sign in his front yard in Glen El­lyn.

Ad­di­tion­ally, an ex­ur­ban con­gres­sional seat that in­cludes por­tions of DuPage, held by Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Randy Hult­gren of Plano, is un­der in­tense com­pe­ti­tion from Demo­cratic chal­lenger Lau­ren Un­der­wood of Naperville.

All of this af­ter Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Bill Fos­ter in 2012 won a re­drawn western DuPage County con­gres­sional seat in ter­ri­tory that had long been rep­re­sented by Repub­li­cans.

The na­ture of the cam­paign­ing Satur­day re­flected the scene-shift­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape in the sub­urbs, cap­ping a week that also saw vis­its by Demo­cratic former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den on be­half of Un­der­wood and Cas­ten in St. Charles, and by Repub­li­can U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s vis­its in sup­port of Hult­gren and Roskam.

Pritzker, joined by Demo­cratic at­tor­ney gen­eral can­di­date Kwame Raoul, met with sup­port­ers in a crowded DuPage County Demo­cratic head­quar­ters of­fice in Lom­bard. Both fo­cused on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whom Democrats per­ceive as a li­a­bil­ity for Repub­li­cans in the county.

Pritzker took aim at Rauner’s visit to a Trump rally last week­end in south­ern Illi­nois, where the gov­er­nor didn’t meet, get a shoutout or get called on­stage to join the pres­i­dent. “We don’t want a gov­er­nor who chases around af­ter the pres­i­dent to south­ern Illi­nois to try to get a picture with him,” Pritzker said. “So bad is Bruce Rauner that even Don­ald Trump didn’t want to get a picture with him.”

Democrats on so­cial me­dia adopted the theme #BluPage to re­fer to their ef­forts in the county.

Nearly 300 miles to the south, Rauner was greet­ing tail­gaters out­side Saluki Sta­dium at South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity — an­other stop on a bus tour that has con­cen­trated on Down­state be­fore it’s set to wrap up with a Sun­day rally with the GOP ticket in Or­land Park. “The big thing is we’ve got to re­mind every­body to get to the polls. Most peo­ple don’t vote, and that’s a prob­lem,” Rauner said in Car­bon­dale. “If we get out and vote, we’ll stop the cor­rup­tion out of Chicago, we’ll stop the tax hikes, we’ll get more jobs here in south­ern Illi­nois and we’ll get a bet­ter fu­ture.”

Down­state is where Rauner is still try­ing to re­pair dam­age with so­cial con­ser­va­tives over his sup­port of laws ex­pand­ing abor­tion, im­mi­grant and trans­gen­der rights that prompted a March pri­mary chal­lenge that he won by only 3 per­cent­age points. In DuPage County, state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton de­feated Rauner in the GOP gov­er­nor pri­mary by more than 4 per­cent­age points.

With Rauner Down­state, the rest of the en­tire Repub­li­can statewide ticket joined with Roskam on Satur­day in the drive­way of a Naperville home be­fore head­ing out to knock on doors.

Roskam ad­dressed the group while hold­ing a copy of The Wall Street Jour­nal bear­ing a head­line about rising wages as he called the idea that a Demo­cratic wave could hit the sub­urbs “hype.” He touted last year’s Repub­li­can tax over­haul he helped en­gi­neer and blasted Cas­ten as a can­di­date the subur­ban dis­trict “can’t af­ford.”

“You get good eco­nomic pol­icy, that is a reg­u­la­tory ap­proach that makes sense and tax re­lief that al­lows the econ­omy to flour­ish, and that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing,” Roskam said.

Later, Roskam bounced through­out the north­ern part of the dis­trict, vis­it­ing a vet­er­ans event at the Ma­sonic Tem­ple in Bar­ring­ton and shak­ing hands with high school foot­ball fans in Lake Zurich dur­ing the team’s play­off game against Mount Carmel.

Cas­ten spoke to dozens of sup­port­ers Satur­day morn­ing in a Lom­bard store­front of­fice as they stood in line for clip­boards that would help vol­un­teers go­ing door-to-door know which vot­ers they needed to talk to. “This is de­scribed to me as the ab­so­lute best kind of can­vass­ing be­cause we’re long past the point of try­ing to fig­ure out whether you’re a racist, Trumpy per­son,” he told the crowd to laughs, “or one of the good ones.”

Roskam has made crit­i­cism of the tone of Cas­ten’s rhetoric a key ar­gu­ment of the clos­ing weeks of his cam­paign.

Cas­ten and Un­der­wood are sched­uled Sun­day to join Pritzker and other mem­bers of the Demo­cratic ticket for a rally with former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago. The home-state pres­i­dent be­came the first Demo­cratic White House can­di­date to win DuPage County since Franklin Pierce in 1852 and the first non-Repub­li­can since Theodore Roosevelt led the Pro­gres­sive Party in 1912.

Obama’s wins in DuPage were fol­lowed in 2016 by Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton beat­ing Trump in the county by more than 14 per­cent­age points. And in a sign of the shift­ing subur­ban elec­torate, Clin­ton won in all of the col­lar coun­ties ex­cept McHenry County.

Con­trast that to 2000, when Ge­orge W. Bush de­feated Al Gore in DuPage County by 13 per­cent­age points, hav­ing keynoted a rally with run­ning mate Dick Cheney at the Col­lege of DuPage just days be­fore the elec­tion. The event be­came best known in Illi­nois po­lit­i­cal lore for then-Gov. Ge­orge Ryan in­ex­pli­ca­bly in­tro­duc­ing leg­endary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka as “Dick Butka.” Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus wasn’t pre­sent.

Daniels, speaker of the Illi­nois House from 1995 to 1997 — two years that in­ter­rupted Demo­cratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s streak of hold­ing the of­fice since 1983 — said Tues­day is lin­ing up to be “al­most a per­fect storm” against Repub­li­cans in DuPage County, the col­lar coun­ties and in Illi­nois.

Daniels cites the tra­di­tional “swing of the pen­du­lum against the party in power” in the White House, what he calls an “un­con­scionable” amount of money be­ing spent on leg­isla­tive con­tests, in­clud­ing by Democrats, uti­liz­ing ex­pen­sive Chicago TV for ads. Then there are di­vi­sions in­side the Repub­li­can Party be­tween its so­cially moder­ate and con­ser­va­tive fac­tions.

But there are other fac­tors at play — such as the de­mo­graphic shift DuPage County has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. DuPage is be­com­ing less white, and its white pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing older, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics com­piled by the county’s pub­lic health depart­ment. At the same time, its racial and eth­nic mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing, and it’s trend­ing younger.

Over­all, the most recent fed­eral Cen­sus sta­tis­tics show DuPage County’s pop­u­la­tion breaks down to 68.3 per­cent white, 14 per­cent Latino, 11 per­cent Asian and 4.5 per­cent black.

Be­tween 1990 and 2013, the county’s Latino pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 275.4 per­cent and the AfricanAmer­i­can pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 175 per­cent, the DuPage health depart­ment re­port said. Dur­ing that time pe­riod, there was a 124.3 per­cent in­crease in the 55-to-59 age group and a 162.4 per­cent in­crease in the 85-and-over age group.

“Yes, I’m a par­ti­san,” said Daniels, an at­tor­ney who also has done strate­gic work for Elmhurst Col­lege. “It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity as Repub­li­cans to meet that chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and to pre­sent the pro­grams clearly and ar­tic­u­lately as to why we’re the best party to serve as the gov­er­nance of these ar­eas. And if you don’t do that, you’re go­ing to suf­fer the con­se­quences.”

Daniels said for Repub­li­cans to­day there’s “so much mis­un­der­stand­ing” of the party’s ba­sic tenets in try­ing to con­duct voter out­reach. “What is the po­si­tion of the Repub­li­can Party on taxes, on ed­u­ca­tion re­form, on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form? How are we deal­ing with the vi­o­lence that we’re see­ing com­ing out, not just in Chicago, but the coun­try as a whole? Re­mem­ber, one of the prin­ci­ple re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of gov­ern­ment is health, safety and wel­fare. Where’s the safety fac­tor?” he asked.

A crit­i­cal sub­set of subur­ban vot­ers are women — fis­cally con­ser­va­tive but so­cially moder­ate who are true swing vot­ers who can hold strong sway over the out­come of Illi­nois elec­tions. “I’ve got a picture of her on a Pow­er­Point,” said Mooney, the UIC po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, ex­plain­ing one of his class ex­hibits. “She’s about 34, she’s got a kid in the back seat that she’s tak­ing to day care or to soc­cer, she’s driv­ing an SUV and she’s driv­ing around in Schaum­burg or Lisle or some­thing like that. She’s so­cially fairly lib­eral. She has no prob­lem with gay peo­ple. Im­mi­grants maybe make her a lit­tle ner­vous but not that much. But she doesn’t like her taxes, and she doesn’t like Don­ald Trump and all these nasty things about peo­ple.”

Con­cerns about fam­ily health and safety are at the fore­front for subur­ban women, past polling has shown, in­clud­ing sup­port for more reg­u­la­tions on guns amid nu­mer­ous mass shoot­ing in­ci­dents across the coun­try that also have in­cluded schools.

Health and safety con­cerns also find DuPage County at the cen­ter of a late cam­paign con­tro­versy over the Rauner ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of an equip­ment ster­il­iza­tion plant in Wil­low­brook that emits cancer-caus­ing eth­yl­ene ox­ide. The com­pany, Steri­gen­ics, is owned in part by the pri­vate-eq­uity firm co-founded by Rauner and has said it is op­er­at­ing within state and fed­eral guide­lines, though a law­suit that was jointly filed by Demo­cratic At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madigan and Repub­li­can DuPage County State’s At­tor­ney Robert Ber­lin seeks to ei­ther shut down the plant or seek more strin­gent rules over its emis­sions.

The Tri­bune pre­vi­ously re­ported the Rauner ad­min­is­tra­tion knew about cancer risks from Steri­gen­ics pol­lu­tion in De­cem­ber but de­ferred to po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­ter­mine when and how the pub­lic was in­formed. An En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency re­port on the cancer risk wasn’t re­leased un­til late Au­gust.

Daniels called the votes of subur­ban women “the vote that mat­ters” and said the fact that many Repub­li­can seats are in jeop­ardy in Congress and the state leg­is­la­ture “is an in­di­ca­tion that we need to do a bet­ter job” com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Daniels said, in­cludes the threat that Demo­cratic con­trol of state gov­ern­ment poses for Repub­li­cans in the fu­ture through the process of re­draw­ing po­lit­i­cal bound­aries fol­low­ing the 2020 Cen­sus. A Repub­li­can gov­er­nor could veto a Demo­cratic-drawn map — forc­ing a tie-breaker that the GOP could win.

It was the one-party, Demo­cratic con­trol of the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and the leg­is­la­ture fol­low­ing the 2010 cen­sus that led to Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jori­ties for much of the decade and push­ing out bound­ary lines from Demo­cratic ar­eas to en­com­pass subur­ban Repub­li­can strongholds.

“That’s what’s at stake,” Daniels said of the elec­tion’s im­pact on the fu­ture of subur­ban Re­pub­li­can­ism. “It’s the re­dis­trict­ing of 2020.”


The 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict seat held by Repub­li­can Peter Roskam, above, is one of the top tar­geted seats for a Demo­cratic takeover through chal­lenger Sean Cas­ten, top.

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