What Illinois Politicians Can Learn from the Midterm Elections
The Soapbox's Paul Frank analyzes the election results.
The national story of the midterm elections is about the U.S. House of Representatives changing parties in dramatic fashion.
In Illinois, the story is very different. Here's my view on what we learned last week.
1. Illinois Will Not Elect Socially Conservative Candidates in Statewide Races.
Up until about 11 p.m. Tuesday, I really didn't think Governor Pat Quinn was going to win. I wanted him to win, but I just didn't think it was going to happen. I had seen too many polls and other political trends this year showing us that the Republicans would have huge advantages across the board this year.
The pollsters, prognosticators and I all forgot one simple truth about Illinois voters. They like their Republicans to be moderate. If you look at whom we have elected in statewide elections since the 1980s, only one conservative Republican has won. That was former Senator Peter Fitzgerald; he beat Carol Moseley-Braun in 1998 after she badly squandered her opportunity. He never even ran for re-election because he knew he probably wouldn't win.
Republican Governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan were all social moderates. When conservative Al Salvi ran for U.S. Senate and subsequently for Illinois Secretary of State, he lost both times.
At the end of the day, Pat Quinn's problems took a backseat to voters' fears about who Bill Brady really was and Illinois voters reminded the statewide Republican Party that it could be the party of change this year – as long as it's nice and moderate.
2. Take the Tea Party Seriously.
National and state Democratic leaders were too quick to dismiss the Tea Party movement as right wing extremists. Maybe the people who show up at the rallies with misspelled and sometimes hateful signs are, but their message of less government spending and fiscal restraint is resonating with large numbers of voters everywhere.
Even on Wednesday, I heard Obama strategist David Plouffe hopefully predicting that the Tea Party would cause problems for the GOP caucus in Congress and throughout the presidential nominating season. Sure, some of that is possible. But those are the kinds of dismissive, wishful thoughts that led to the Democrats demise on Tuesday. If they continue to ignore that the underlying message that the Tea Partiers represents, they may invite more Democratic losses in 2012.
3. No One Reads the Tribune's Endorsements.
The Chicago Tribune's candidate endorsements used to really mean something. They were always slightly biased towards the Republicans, but for the most part you could see the logic in many of their choices. But over the past three election cycles they have lost a lot of credibility with readers and more notably among the politicians.
I won't be surprised if we see Democratic candidates decline the Tribune's endorsement interview requests in 2012. They don't get the Tribune's endorsement when they seek it and now they know they can win without it.
Representative Karen May has a strong record of representing our community's interests in Springfield, yet the Tribune endorsed her opponent, Republican Lauren Turelli, purely with the goal of forcing Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan out of power. They did this consistently, regardless of the Republican candidate's qualifications.
The Tribune attacked Speaker Madigan for blocking "revenue reforms" (i.e. income tax increase) then endorsed Bill Brady for promising not to raise taxes. Which is it, Tribune? Do you want an income tax increase or not?
The Tribune endorsed Senator Brady for Governor because they said he could solve the state's budget crisis, but they didn't ask him for his budget plans. The Tribune endorsed independent Forrest Claypool for Cook County Assessor, only because his Democratic opponent was a Madigan ally. Brady and Claypool both lost.
Ironically two Democrats who the Tribune did endorse for their moderate positions were Congressmen Bill Foster and Melissa Bean. They both lost. Voters either don't read the Tribune anymore or they just plain ignore the paper's endorsements. Either way, the politicians now know that the Tribune just doesn't matter.