The Voting Booth

An Introduction

Welcome to The Voting Booth blog!

For more than a generation Illinois politics has been predictable. At the presidential level Illinois has voted Democratic in every election since 1992, with Barack Obama improving upon John Kerry's easy 2004 victory by 13 percentage points. In Congress, Democrats have held both Senate seats since 1985, with the lone exception of Peter Fitzgerald's single term in the early 2000s, while in the House Democrats presently hold an almost 2-1 advantage over Republicans. 

At the state level, Democratic dominance progressed throughout the late 1990s and 2000s to the point we see today, when Democrats hold every single statewide office. Democrats are in firm control of both chambers of the General Assembly and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan has held his post for all but two years since 1983. For many in Illinois President Obama's 2008 victory was more than just a transfer of power in Washington. It was a capstone on the Illinois Democrats' sure and steady consolidation of power stretching back to the early 1990s.

And of course there's Chicago.

In November 2008 few political observers doubted that this state of affairs would continue for at least another generation. At which point things began to unravel, as they usually do. This is the lesson I learned as a young editorial writer working in Washington, both during and after the Republicans' decline and fall: In politics, things are never as good or as bad as they first appear. 

Last year Democrats learned nominating a clown for governor - twice - would not go unpunished. At the same time, Republicans have learned that it's wiser to keep a party strong and prepared in the event fortune gives you a break. Which brings us to January 2010, fifteen months after Obama's resounding victory, and politics in Illinois has never looked more unpredictable.

But we also shouldn't overstate the Democrats' troubles or the Republicans' advantage. Things look bleak for the Democrats, yes, but because they are so thoroughly in command of the levers of power in Illinois, it will require more than one election to knock them off the pedestal. As for Republicans, political advantage breeds its own dangers, and to reverse the trend of the last generation will require success and competence - which is to say, the exact opposite of what the party has shown of late.

Nevertheless, when the party in power is in danger of losing the president's former Senate seat, in a state he won by over 20 points a little more than a year ago, then you know things are changing in Blue Illinois. The predictability that for so long has defined Illinois politics is nearing its end.
 
That is the premise behind this blog. On to the particulars...

The Voting Booth will focus on the major federal and state races in Illinois this year. And what a circus. Vying for President Obama's old Senate seat are no fewer than six Republicans and five Democrats. For governor, there are two Democrats, including Gov. Pat Quinn, and seven - yes, seven - Republicans. Throw in a handful of statewide offices, a couple U.S. House seats and the occasional General Assembly and county seat, and we should have no end of fun stuff to report and analyze. 

What's more, in a little more than two weeks, on Feb. 2, Illinoisans will go to the polls to whittle this mess down to just the party nominees. Which means we have a lot of ground to cover and not very much time to do it. 

Fortunately, state races have a tendency to be quite sleepy until the final lap, which means, if you haven't been paying much attention, you haven't missed much at all.  But the intensity of these final weeks also means we'll have to be judicious in choosing which races to cover. For that reason, I'm going to focus this blog on the major races, including Governor and the U.S. Senate and House. Also, because I know this will come up, I'm going to limit coverage to viable major party candidates. Yes, in nearly every case, this excludes the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution candidates.

Finally, a matter of disclosure needs to be addressed. As you can read on my About Me page, I worked for a time last year as the policy director on the Proft for Governor campaign. Therefore, in each post covering the GOP gubernatorial primary, I will reiterate my former association with the Proft campaign. But I hope that my work will assuage any doubt about my objectivity.

More importantly, I would not be achieving my goals for The Voting Booth if I tilted my electoral analysis with spin, ideological or otherwise. Although there will be times when I indulge my own biases, they will not affect my analysis of the particular races. My aim here is to provide a place for readers to come learn the latest election news and read one politico's take on what it all means. Which is not to say I won't be taking shots. Politics is often a silly business and nitwits on both sides of the aisle deserve nothing less than a good skewering.

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