March 24, 2004


Howard Dean, before the collapse of his presidential campaign, was fond of calling himself the candidate of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," meaning those Democratic voters who want pure, unadulterated liberal candidates and office holders who will implacably and uncompromisingly oppose President George Bush and the Republicans.

Barack Obama's landslide victory in the March 16 Democratic primary for U.S. senator was definitely fueled by votes from the party's "Democratic wing," who wanted a "real Democrat" and who were impressed with Obama's credentials.

Yet Illinois' "Democratic wing" did not suddenly manifest itself with the advent of the Bush Administration or the Iraq War. It's been around for decades, and it surfaced in the 1992 Senate primary, when Carol Moseley Braun upset incumbent Al Dixon. In fact, 2004 is a virtual replication of 1992.

Like Braun, Obama is a black Chicagoan from Hyde Park. Like Braun, Obama's support spanned racial and geographic divides; he got 52.7 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field, while she got 38.3 percent in a three-way race. And, like Braun, Obama won because he was the most prominent liberal candidate. Here are other salient comparisons:

Turnout: 1992 was the "Year of the Woman," and Democratic turnout was 1,456,268. 2004 is the "Year to Dump Bush," and turnout was 1,222,241 -- or 234,027 less than 12 years ago. But turnout was 917,423 in 2000, and 902,635 in 1996. So this year's turnout, despite a presidential nomination race that was already over, was 304,818 votes higher than 2000's. So it is safe to conclude that Illinois Democrats are as energized and enthusiastic as they were in 1992, when Braun won the Senate seat by a 504,396-vote margin.

Total vote: Braun got 557,694 votes statewide, while Obama got 645,773, or 88,079 more. The combined vote against Braun was 898,574, while the combined vote against Obama was 576,468. That means the party's "non-Democratic wing" is fading. In 1992 Dixon, a Downstater, was perceived as the least liberal Democrat in the race, and he finished second with 504,077 votes (34.6 percent); in 2004 state Comptroller Dan Hynes was perceived as the least liberal Democrat in the race, and he finished a distant second with 290,224 votes (23.7 percent). Clearly, in both years, Democrats wanted an obvious and outspoken liberal.

Black base: Braun amassed awesome numbers in Chicago's 20 black-majority wards, getting 176,178 votes. This year, despite the fact that some black committeemen (such as John Stroger) had endorsed Hynes, Obama did even better, getting 195,556 votes, or 19,378 more than Braun. Other than the 1983 and 1987 city mayoral elections, when Harold Washington was on the ballot, 1992 ranked near the top for black turnout. Turnout this year was higher. That bodes well for Obama in November.

Citywide: Braun got 298,379 votes in Chicago (51.2 percent), in a turnout of 582,752; Obama got 299,836 votes in Chicago (66.6 percent) in a turnout of 450,265. Obama got just 1,457 more votes than Braun, but he won two-thirds of the Chicago vote. The reason: Turnout was 132,587 less in 2004 than in 1992, and virtually all that decline was in the white-majority wards, where ethnic, conservative voters -- who populate the "non-Democratic wing" and who backed Dixon in 1992 -- either voted in the Republican primary, didn't vote at all, or have since died or moved out of the city.

Lakefront: It is an fallacy that huge numbers of slumbering white liberals along the Lakefront suddenly awoke and stampeded to Obama. In fact, Obama got fewer votes in the seven Lakefront wards (1st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 46th, 48th and 49th) than did Braun, getting 39,876 compared to Braun's 46,202. Hynes got an anemic 5,764 votes on the Lakefront. By comparison, Dixon had 17,575 votes in 1992. Obama got the usual vote that any liberal "Democratic wing" candidate gets in a primary.

Northwest Side: Again, the 37,380 votes that Obama received in Chicago's 10 Northwest Side wards (32nd, 33rd, 36th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, 45th, 47th and 50th) doesn't surprise. Braun got 38,995 votes in those wards. Some political observers profess to be stunned by the fact that Obama won nine of those wards, and lost only in the 36th Ward. In fact, he won an outright majority in the 32nd,  40th, 47th and 50th wards, and pluralities in the other five.

However, there is a built-in liberal vote in those supposedly conservative wards, and those voters will not be swayed by precinct captains. In the 45th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 3,351-3,256, Braun got 3,437 votes in 1992; in the 41st Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 3,449-3,282, Braun got 3,705 votes; in the 38th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 2,474-2,019, Braun got 2,959; in the 39th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 3,085-1,977, Braun got 3,038; in the 40th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 4,159-1,306, Braun got 3,284; in the 36th Ward, where Hynes beat Obama 3,552-2,871, Braun got 3,090; in the 47th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 6,604-2,797, Braun got 5,360; and in the 50th Ward, where Obama beat Hynes 4,140-1,131, Braun got 4,273.

Southwest Side: This was "Hynes Territory," and Hynes had the support of such political powerhouses as House Speaker Mike Madigan (13th Ward), U.S. Representative Bill Lipinski (23rd Ward), County Commissioner John Daley (11th Ward) and his father, former assessor Tom Hynes (19th Ward). Daley, Lipinski and Madigan delivered as promised. In the 13th Ward, where Hynes beat Obama 7,322-1,791, Braun got 2,934; in the 11th Ward, where Hynes beat Obama 6,065-1,458, Braun got 2,592; and in the 23rd Ward, where Hynes beat Obama 5,867-2,317, Braun got 3,167. Obama ran behind Braun's showing in all three wards. But in the 19th Ward, Hynes won by just 9,490-7,689 (Braun got 6,902). In the 10th Ward, Obama beat Hynes 1,968-1,842, with 1,956 for Gery Chico (Braun had 6,050); and in Ed Burke's Hispanic-majority 14th Ward, Chico also won, with 3,197 to Obama's 663 and Hynes' 571. Overall, on the Southwest Side, Obama got 15,886 votes, less than Braun's 24,032.

Hispanic Wards: In the seven Hispanic-majority wards (12th, 22nd, 25th, 26th, 30th, 31st and 35th) with Hispanic aldermen (excluding Burke's ward), Obama got 11,138 votes; that was less than Braun's 12,972. Chico got 8,745 votes.

Cook County suburbs: The black exodus from Chicago and into the west and south suburbs was evident in the Obama vote. Braun got 110,910 votes in the 30 suburban townships, winning 12, while Obama got 162,938 votes and won 23 townships. In southern black-majority townships, Obama's margins over Hynes were staggering: 22,292-2,252 in Thornton, 11,995-1,005 in Rich, 7,577-1,298 in Bloom and 8,103-2,897 in Bremen. In the west, it was 14,405-2,305 in Proviso and 10,315-616 in Oak Park. In predominantly white northern townships, it was 13,058-590 in Evanston, 9,959-2,900 in Niles, 5,878-2,677 in Maine, 7,607-774 in New Trier and 6,542-1,930 in Wheeling. Even Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights) went for Obama, 713-685.

Obama got 52,028 more votes than Braun did, mainly the result of blacks and liberal whites having moved to the suburbs.

Collar Counties: Much was made of Braun's gender appeal in 1992, of how many Republican "soccer moms" voted for her in the Democratic primary. Braun got 62,320 votes in the Collar Counties (DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake); Obama upped that to 100,048, a gain of 37,728 votes. And that surge cannot be attributed to any influx of minorities into the area. Quite simply, a lot of suburbanites are politically liberal, and Obama was their choice.

When the most liberal Democrat gets 89,756 more suburban and Collar County votes in 2004 than the most liberal candidate in 1992, a major trend is afoot. But lest Republicans despair, it should be noted that while suburban Democrats are becoming more liberal, they are not getting more numerous. The Democratic vote in the Collar Counties was 163,308 in 1992, while in 2004 it was 177,816 -- a small gain.

Downstate: To triumph, Hynes needed to win two-thirds of the Downstate vote. He came in with 135,352 votes (41.2 percent), to Obama's 82,951 (25.3 percent) and Blair Hull's 77,109 (23.5 percent). Hull's collapse aided Hynes, but it didn't affect Obama, whose vote total was nearly identical to Braun's 85,696. What changed dramatically from 1992 to 2004 was turnout. It dropped by more than 100,000, from 428,339 to 326,970, and those 100,000 1992 Democratic voters are clearly not part of their party's 2004 "Democratic wing." But even if they had voted for Hynes, and even if Hynes had picked up all of Hull's 131,623 votes, Obama would have won.

The November outlook: Like Braun, Obama is a fresh political face. Unlike Braun, he doesn't appear to have much negative political baggage. A lot of Illinoisans will vote against him because of his odd name and his race, but an equal number will vote for him for those reasons. Obama is the favorite to win in November.