This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will focus on the Illinois Senate election, in which Republican candidate Mark Kirk pulled out a close Republican victory in a strongly Democratic state.
Illinois’s Senatorial Election
Senator Mark Kirk’s victory follows the contours of a previous post, titled Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois. This post argued:
So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.
As it turns out, this is almost exactly what actually happened in the election.
The previous analysis divided Illinois into three sections: Chicago, the suburbs of Chicago, and downstate Illinois. Let’s take a look at what Mr. Kirk did in each part of Illinois.
Illinois is generally a Democratic stronghold. Cook County, home to the city of Chicago, composes more than 40% of the state’s population, and Democrats always win by a landslide in the county. Republicans have to stretch themselves to the limit everywhere else in the state – winning even the areas that normally vote Democratic – to get close.
But Republicans also must dampen Democratic margins in Cook County. This happens if Republicans can do well in the parts of Cook County outside Chicago, which are whiter and more conservative. In the city of Chicago itself, most voters are so Democratic that they will prefer not voting to casting the ballot for a Republican. There, low turn-out is more important for Republicans than actually winning over voters.
In 2010, Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias won 64.3% of the vote in Cook County.
At first glance, this sounds quite good. Winning 64.3% of the vote is nothing to sniff at. No president has ever won that much of the popular vote in history.
But Senator John Kerry won 70.2% of the vote in Cook County. And President Barack Obama took 76.2% of the vote. In modern Illinois politics, a Democratic candidate who takes only 64.3% of the vote in Cook County is in deep trouble.
Read the rest of this entry →