Winners & Losers: Illinois election fallout

November 3, 2010

By nearly every measure, the GOP had a big night on Tuesday.  But what about things closer to home?  Who were the big winners and losers in Illinois?

That's where things get much more interesting.  In the Land of Lincoln, Obama, and Blagojevich, outcomes both confirmed and defied national trends.  And even though votes are still being counted in two key races - Governor and the 8th U.S. Congressional District - a mixed picture of winners and losers is beginning to emerge.

Here's how it looks:

The Winners

Cook County Democratic Party:  Lost amidst all the attention paid to Republican successes locally and nationally was the fact that the Cook County Democratic Party "got it done" when it counted last night.  Despite the bruised egos that came with the loss of the U.S. Senate seat and a few key House races, the local Machine took care of business at home in key power positions - including Cook County Assessor, the Illinois General Assembly, and if current trends hold, the Governorship.  That means they'll continue to control all 3 branches of state government, the redistricting process, and Cook County patronage armies.  Any way you figure it, that adds up to a win - especially in an historic Republican year nationally.

Illinois Republican Party:  This is the only entry to show up in both lists (more on that below), but the case for declaring the Illinois GOP a winner on Tuesday is about context.  Just two years ago, an Obama landslide raised questions about the future relevance of the Illinois Republican Party.  And that doesn't even take into account the conviction of former Gov. George Ryan, the Jack Ryan scandal, the Alan Keyes debacle, and a decade of infighting and disfunction.  Things were so bad for the party that they couldn't even defeat a scandal plagued Rod Blagojevich in 2006.  But last night the GOP racked up big wins in races for the U.S. Senate (Kirk), U.S. Congress (Dold, Kinzinger, Hultgren, Schilling, & maybe Walsh), and State Treasurer and State Comptroller.  Thanks to newfound party unity and a big push from Tea Party enthusiasts, the IL GOP had it's best night in a decade. 

Joe Berrios:  Investigative exposes and a slew of attack ads accused Berrios of improper dealings and clout-heavy preferential treatment during his tenure on the Cook County Board of Review.  Even so, those allegations and an independent challenge from fellow Democrat Forrest Claypool weren't enough to take down Berrios, the Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.  In the end, party regulars came out for their guy - and their boss - and put him comfortably in the Cook County Assessor's seat.

Michael Madigan: At the beginning of the year, the idea that Michael Madigan would no longer be the Speaker of the Illinois House in 2011 was considered far fetched.  But in the closing weeks of the campaign, it became a distinct possibilty.  In fact, some predicted growing Republican momentum would be enough to blow Republicans back into control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1996.  If so, that would've taken the speaker's gavel out of Madigan's hand and would've left significant redistricting and legislative power in the hands of the GOP.  But it was not to be.  In the end, the Republicans came close, but the Democrats held on - and so did Madigan, who remains the most powerful individual in Illinois state politics.

Dick Durbin:  Is Durbin really a winner?  Well, the argument against this goes like this:  1) He failed to keep in Democratic hands the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama (big symbollic blow), and 2) Had the Dems lost control of the Senate and/or Harry Reid lost his relection bid in Nevada, Durbin could've risen a spot to become the leading Democrat in the senior chamber.  So on that basis, you could argue it was a rough night for Durbin.  But Durbin also could've been outdone by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in a power struggle to become the Dems leader.  And had the Dems lost the Senate, Durbin's influence would've been diminished still.  So, under the belief that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, Durbin's a winner.  With the Dems holding on to the Senate, the party's power and Durbin's own clout remain as strong as ever.  In fact, with Congress now in Republican hands, he'll become an even more important power broker on Capitol Hill.

Governor Pat Quinn:  OK, so this may be premature, especially since State Sen. Bill Brady (R-IL) is still contesting the outcome of the election.  But for the sake of argument, let's say that the current results hold and Quinn wins a full four year term as Governor.  If true, that would mean Quinn overcame a mountain of obstacles in the process.  Consider this:  If you would've told someone that an incumbent Democrat would've won re-election this year with dismal approval ratings, high unemployment and the corruption conviction of his Democratic predecessor and former running made, they would've said you're nuts.  

Mark Kirk:  Sure, national trends favored Republicans this year.  Sure, the Democrats nominated a young candidate with a thin and tarnished resume (Alexi Giannoulias).  And sure, Kirk had big time cash and support from outside the state.  But Illinoisians have sent exactly one Republican to the U.S. Senate in the last quarter of a century - and the Democrats pulled out all the stops to keep it that way on Tuesday.  Kirk overcame his own major missteps and a major push from the Obama White House to secure the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

 

The Losers

President Barack Obama:  Much already has been said about both the real and symbollic setbacks posed by these midterm results.  The signs of what-could-be first emerged in the special election of Massachussetts Senator Scott Brown earlier this year.  As many have predicted, the President's job just got a lot harder.  Period.  The silver lining for him?  He now has a tangible foil to position against:  The Republican Congress.

Illinois Republican Party:  So "the winners" case was made above, but what about the case for "the losers" list?  Item: It's an historic Republican wave year; 2) Approval ratings for Obama, Quinn, Madigan, Daley, et al are all dangerously low; 3) Tea Party activists are firing up the base; AND 4) A jury just convicted former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich of corruption.  With such a "perfect storm" of conditions, the GOP should run the table, right?  Well, not so much.  Yes, the IL GOP racked up some impressive victories on Tuesday.   But assuming current trends hold in the Governor's race, the Dems will continue to control all 3 branches of state government.  As KISS' Gene Simmons once said, "Close, but no guitars".  And in this midterm year, that's not victory. 

Alexi Giannoulias:  The 34-year-old State Treasurer and friend-of-Obama ran a spirited campaign in the midst of a Republican hurricane - and the final outcome hardly could have been closer.  But a loss is a loss, especially one in the President's home state, in his home seat, and with big help from the home team.  The big question now:  What's next for Alexi?

Dan Seals:  Especially if you're a supporter, but even if you're not, it's hard not sympathize with Dan Seals today.  Six years ago, Seals was billed as a rising young star and was being compared to Barack Obama.  He lost two close races for Illinois' 10th Congressional District, but with incumbent Mark Kirk electing to run for the U.S. Senate this year, many people thought Seals' time had finally come.  Alas, he lost another close one - this time to Republican Robert Dold.  That makes him 0-for-3, just like Republican Jim Oberweis.

Forrest Claypool & Tony Peraica:  Four years ago, these two men - one Democrat and one Republican - came close to defeating the Strogers in  two races for Cook County Board President.  At the time, Claypool and Peraica were part of a small, but effective block of votes pushing for reform on the County Board.  Many expected one or both would be back to run for the Cook County Board Presidency this year.  Instead, they made other choices and now, four years later, the two are out of county government - and out of elected office altogether.  

Updated 11/3/2010 @ 9:55a