Cook County's once-Republican North Shore and
northwest suburbs, all politics is national. This
directly contradicts Tip O'Neill's famously
ancient maxim that "all politics is
area has become Illinois' equivalent of New
England, namely, a Republican wasteland. Candidate
quality doesn't matter. Money spent doesn't
matter. Any Democrat, however flawed, can and will
beat any Republican, however stellar. The
Republican brand, nationally and locally, has
become monstrously repulsive.
discouraging and psychologically devastating for
the Republicans were the defeats on Nov. 6 of Jim
O'Donnell, Susan Sweeney and Sid Mathias.
were perceived by Springfield Republican
strategists as likely winners. All were amply
funded. All had attackable -- and theoretically
beatable -- Democratic foes, but all were
essentially beaten by two factors. One factor was
the injection of abortion into the election
conversation by numbskulls like Todd Akin of
Missouri. Akin's stupidity reinforced the
perception of the Republicans as the party of
intolerance. The other factor was the lack of a
clear, coherent Republican message about how, amid
incontrovertible Democratic incompetence in state
government, they would solve the Springfield mess.
the 28th Illinois Senate District, which stretches
from Park Ridge west to Roselle, O'Donnell
self-funded about $150,000 and spent $375,000,
while incumbent Democrat Dan Kotowski spent $1.5
million, including gobs of money from Senate
President John Cullerton's campaign committee.
Kotowski provided the key 30th vote to pass the
state income tax hike, and his district was
completely redrawn, but it mattered not. Kotowski
triumphed easily, 44,647-33,206, getting 57.3
percent of the vote and winning by a margin of
once-Republican Maine Township (Park Ridge and Des
Plaines), where both O'Donnell and Kotowski
reside, the Democrat swept the 41 precincts
12,884-9,446, getting 57.6 percent of the vote. In
the new western areas, Kotowski won 17,602-13,760
(with 56.1 percent of the vote) in the 54
Schaumburg Township precincts (Schaumburg,
Streamwood, Roselle) and 11,545-7,549 (with 57.4
percent) in the 14 DuPage County precincts.
attacked Kotowski was a big spender and a tax
hiker. Kotowski attacked O'Donnell as a bloated,
Mitt Romney-like plutocrat and a Republican. Given
those caricatures, it wasn't even close.
was a mean, nasty campaign," O'Donnell said,
adding that Kotowski spent $400,000 on cable
television ads. "He claimed that the company
I work for got a $5 million 'backroom deal' grant
from the Blagojevich Administration, that the
company got a $10,000 property tax break, that I
was an 'extremist' because I was endorsed by the
pro-life Family PAC and Jack Roser's PAC, and that
I wanted to criminalize abortion, with no
exceptions. It was all lies."
it worked. Kotowski, who was first elected in
2006, deftly deflected O'Donnell's onslaught.
Raising taxes was "fiscal reform," he
said. He was trying to "cut" spending.
Everybody -- meaning not just the Democrats -- was
responsible for the state's fiscal crisis. The
"culture of corruption" applied to both
parties, even though the Democrats have run the
state government since 2002. "When people met
him door-to-door, he talked like a
Republican," joked O'Donnell. "They
thought he was a Republican." But the last
laugh was on O'Donnell.
to Republican insiders, O'Donnell was "cut
loose" in mid-October, when polls showed him
losing. O'Donnell said he expected at least
$300,000 in Springfield money for direct mail,
with a deluge of attack pieces in the western end
of the district, but it never materialized.
"I anticipated more help," O'Donnell
said tactfully and ruefully.
known as "Energizer Danny" for his
relentless campaign regimen, simply outworked and
outspent O'Donnell. The northwest suburban
district had elected Republicans to the state
Senate from the 1870s until 2006. O'Donnell was
the Republicans' last-gasp chance to retake the
seat. Kotowski is now safe until at least 2022.
the 55th Illinois House district, which takes in
the eastern half of Kotowski's Senate district,
liberal, pro-choice Des Plaines Republican
Rosemary Mulligan had securely held the seat since
1992, and House Republican leader Tom Cross wanted
to get rid of her. After Mulligan's ineptitude in
securing nominating signatures got her knocked off
the primary ballot, Cross recruited Sweeney, an
obscure area teacher who was pro-life on abortion.
Cross' workers easily got Sweeney more write-in
votes than Mulligan in the primary.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan recruited Des
Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan, a fiscally
conservative but pro-choice Democrat who was not
anathema to area Republicans, and Moylan won
nearly every precinct in Des Plaines.
Madigan/Moylan machine spent $700,000, while the
Cross/Sweeney operation spent $600,000. It was a
bit closer than the Kotowski contest, but Moylan
won 19,087-16,802, getting 53.2 percent of the
vote and winning by a margin of 2,285 votes.
Numerous outside groups, like the pro-abortion
Personal PAC and organized labor, weighed in for
Moylan, a trade union member. The Republicans went
negative on Moylan, ripping him as a tax raiser
during his tenure as mayor, while the Democrats
slammed Sweeney as an "extremist" and
Mulligan, the Maine Township Republican
committeeman, endorsed Moylan.
the political consensus fostered by Mulligan's
string of 10 victories that an anti-abortion
Republican could not win, Sweeney, of Park Ridge,
ran surprisingly well in the 41 Maine Township
precincts. She lost the township 11,930-10,653, a
margin of just 1,277 votes, but she also lost the
24 Elk Grove Township precincts (Mount Prospect
and part of Des Plaines) 7,426-6,034, a margin of
1,392 votes. In sum, Moylan was beatable, but
Sweeney was unelectable.
multiplicity of mailers hit Sweeney's
"extremist" positions, claiming that she
supported concealed carry guns, opposed a ban on
assault rifles, opposed abortion with no
exceptions, praised Wisconsin Governor Scott
Walker's employee union reforms, and denied global
warming. In short, Sweeney was portrayed as a
crackpot, and it worked.
promises to be an "independent." We'll
see, but he will be tough to beat in 2014.
the 59th House district, 14-year incumbent
Mathias, a popular former Buffalo Grove mayor, was
the target of Madigan's remap. In Mathias' old
53rd District, almost 85 percent of the population
was south of Lake Cook Road, meaning in Cook
County, not Lake County. It included Arlington
Heights, Prospect Heights and the south half of
Buffalo Grove. Mathias was re-elected in 2010 with
64.6 percent of the vote, and even in the Obama
sweep of 2008 he managed a 52.5 percent victory.
Being well known, pro-choice, Jewish and fiscally
conservative, Mathias was a perfect fit for the
2012, Mathias was drawn into the new 59th
District, which excised almost all of Cook County,
absorbed all of Buffalo Grove and put him up
against Democratic incumbent Carol Sente of Vernon
Hills, who was appointed to replace in 2009 Kathy
Ryg. Sente won in 2010 with just 52.9 percent of
the vote after Ryg was re-elected in 2008 with
63.7 percent. Clearly, Sente was beatable.
geography and money sunk Mathias in November. In
the presidential year of 2008, in Mathias' old
53rd District, 41,480 votes were cast in Cook
County and 4,503 were cast in Lake County. Mathias
won the former by 3,026 votes and the latter by
519 votes. In 2010 the vote totals were 30,455 and
year, after the remap, only seven Cook County
precincts remained in the new 59th District, while
56 were in Lake County. On Nov. 6, 11,326 votes
were cast in Cook County and 35,327 were cast in
Lake County. Mathias lost the Wheeling Township
precincts (south Buffalo Grove and some of
Arlington Heights) to Sente by 1,094 votes, and he
lost the Lake County precincts to Sente by 3,795
to state disclosures, Mathias spent about $250,000
and Sente spent $450,000. If Mathias couldn't keep
the seat, it's gone forever.
Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago,
a pro-business entity, in November called the
state's $86 billion-plus unfunded pension
are the root of the problem, the cause of the
problem, and are incapable of fixing the
problem," a Republican campaign consultant
said about Illinois' pension, debt and spending
woes. He said that the Republican leaders in the
General Assembly -- Christine Radagno in the
Senate and Tom Cross in the House -- offered no
coherent solutions similar to the "Contract
with America" of 1994. "It was every
candidate messaging for themselves, with the party
funding the negative advertising," he added.
result was disastrous. The Republicans have
acquired the indelible patina of losers. The
proverbial ashes of defeat are everywhere. Losing
discourages the donor base. Losing depresses
candidate recruitment. Losing saps rank-and-file
enthusiasm. In short, over the past 12 years,
losing has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: no
money, poor candidates, no precinct workers, and
2000 the Republicans held 10 of 32 New England
House seats and five of 16 Senate seats. Now it's
one of 30 and two of 16. In 2000, in the area
stretching from the Lakefront to Elgin, north of
Devon Avenue, the Republicans held all five
suburban-only Senate seats and nine of 12 House
seats; now the Democrats hold four of six Senate
seats and 9 of 12 House seats.
this year's debacle, the Republicans are convinced
that it can't get any worse. Don't bet on it.