By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Partisan turmoil in Washington, D.C., and here isn’t discouraging Illinois Democratic faithfuls’ confidence in their ability to win big in the 2012 elections.
Hundreds of frontline Democrats gathered at the annual Democratic County Chairmen’s breakfast at the Crown Plaza Hotel before heading to the 158th Illinois State Fair. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, made public appearances in the northwestern part of his home state Wednesday, Aug. 17, as part of his three-day tour of the Midwest.
Party chairmen statewide said the 2012 general election, in which all state legislators and U.S. representatives must run for re-election in modified districts because of redistricting, would skew in their party’s favor.
“I fully expect that with the energy from the top of the ticket — the congressional races — it’s just going to come all the way down, and I think it will not only come down-ticket, but it will also come downstate, starting in Chicago and come all the way down to southern Illinois,” said Monroe County Democratic Chairman Alan Pirtle.
Following Democratic gains in the 2008 election, Republicans seized on the rising popularity of the fiscal conservative movement to seize a majority in the U.S. House and make gains in other elected offices. This momentum was experienced in Illinois, as Republicans unseated several Democratic incumbents in Congress, the General Assembly and statewide offices.
Democratic county chairmen in Illinois said they are hoping the voters’ frustration over the toxic national debt-ceiling debate in Washington, D.C., and the sputtering national economy with its lagging unemployment will help them reverse some of the GOP gains in 2012.
Ogle County Democratic Chairman Holly Johnson said she attended the breakfast rather than Obama’s visits to Atkinson and Alpha.
“I think everybody is frustrated with both sides. I’m really frustrated with both sides, but I think if we can get the word out and people understand what’s going on, I do think the anger will” work in favor of the Democrats, Johnson said.
East of Ogle, Grundy County Democrats watched their county switch allegiances in 2010, as U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R- Manteno, ousted Democratic incumbent Debbie Halvorson in the 11th Congressional District.
Grundy County Democratic Chairman Mike Olewinski said: “I think this is not the same as 2010. I think what you’re going to see is a lot of people realize that the party politics that got pushed through last year are not doing the county or the state or the country any good, and that they need to elect people that are going to move forward.”
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said the reality of what’s happening in Illinois, where Democrats hold the governor’s office and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, will not only maintain the momentum from the previous election in support of Republicans, but will add to it.
“If you want to come to a state that is completely screwed up, not only by the local Democrats but by the national Democrats, I invite you to come to Illinois and spend a week here,” Brady said. “You will see the worst state insofar as how this state is managed from a fiscal perspective.”
Democratic county chairmen disagreed with Brady’s attempt to link their party to the state’s fiscal problems, such as the $4 billion in overdue bills the state owes. Instead of focusing on national politics, where casting stones is easier because officials aren’t as visible in smaller neighborhoods, many chairmen said they have set their goals on keeping Democrats in local offices during the 2012 race.
In Peoria County, for example, state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, has announced his ambition to run for the 17th Congressional District in the U.S. House, creating an open race for his statehouse office, which is usually more competitive because of the lack of incumbent name recognition.
“We’ve got to keep that (state) senate seat. You know, Dave Koehler, we’ve got to keep that seat, there’s no doubt,” Peoria County Democratic Chairman Billy Halstead said.
Much of the Democratic county chairmen’s faith in a big 2012 victory is founded on the belief that the more conservative candidates who helped Republicans make big gains in 2010 will hurt their party in the upcoming elections.
“The frustration is because of what’s happening with the tea party and what’s happening with the Republicans. … As things develop, we’re going to see a trend move towards Democrats,” DuPage County Chairman Bob Peickert said.
Brady doesn’t see it that way. He said that in Illinois, a state controlled by Democrats, the numbers should favor Republicans.
“We have the worst deficit in the country, we have the worst debt in the country, we are the fourth-worst state in the union as a place to do business,” Brady said. “President Obama, your buddies in Illinois have done a miserable job of handling the economy in this state.”