Election 2012 is over, finally.
A collective sigh of relief let out last week as Americans reclaimed their home phone lines from robocalls and their TV viewing from attack ads. Though the national landscape has changed little, from the point of view of a Highland Park voter, much has changed.
Will the change continue into the next election cycle?
Want Highland Park news in your inbox every morning? Subscribe to Patch's newsletter.
My college minor was political science, with a focus on presidential elections. Thus I find the days approaching November each leap year to be almost-consuming, watching the twists and turns of the race to the ballot box.
Until the very end, I wasn't ready to declare the Obama versus Romney contest to be the most disgusting campaign witnessed on the national stage. At least the outright personal attacks that plagued the Obama 2008 campaign were mostly on the sidelines, Donald Trump notwithstanding. However, from the first debate onward, the presidential election became a slugfest. The outright lies and deceptions -- a five-point plan without details, Jeeps being made in China, calling it an "apology tour" to the President's face -- reeked of desperation.
To me, the only surprise to the national contest was the shock of the Romney camp that they lost so thoroughly.
The election did offer a surprise here at home. The Illinois 10th District hasn't had a Democrat as representative in over 30 years, and only one Democrat -- Abner Mikva -- since 1887. Robert Dold held multiple advantages in this contest: the district's history of supporting moderate conservatives and the power of incumbency. He also had, as much as any Congressman running in 2012, a reasonably positive track record from the last two years in office.
On the other hand, Brad Schneider had won a multi-way Democratic primary contest without a majority, with no prior government service.
The odds seemed long that Schneider could beat the incumbent Dold.
The campaign, to my eyes, made that seem like an even more difficult contest. Dold's campaign came into the national contest with over $1.2 million in the bank, according to the Daily Herald, and eventually raised over $4 million, versus $2.6 million for Schneider -- still big money. Independent organizations spent even more. Dold's attack ads ran all over Chicago TV and radio for weeks before the election. They seemed to be striking on vulnerable points, such as Schneider's unwillingness to disclose his full financial and taxpaying history for the last several years.
In short, as I drove around the Illinois tenth over the last month, I was convinced -- perhaps by the out-sized Dold signs everywhere -- that Schneider wasn't going to win.
Maybe I wasn't spending enough time in Cook County, as the vote in that portion of the district put Schneider in the winning column. I was as surprised as the Dold staff and supporters.
The post-election story is that the redistricting from the 2010 census was favorable to the Democrats in the 10th. Maybe so. Perhaps it was the coattails of a geography that was more likely to vote Obama, Morrison and Drury into office. Perhaps voters simply wanted to give the Democrats in the Congress a chance to break the gridlock. Any which way, I am looking forward to Schneider's service, and hope that he does not carry the negativity of the campaign into office.
In his victory speech last week, President Obama said, "The best is yet to come." After this grueling set of contests, I hope so. I hope that in 2016, the Political Action Committees take a fundamentally different approach. Billions of dollars spent at the national, state, and district level resulted mostly in lost ground, and collective distaste across all fifty states. For years, the thought has been, "well, negative campaigning happens because it works." This year, it didn't.
Is it finally time to change the calculus of American politics?