Democrats in DeKalb County walked away from Election Day feeling pretty confident, with victories that evened the party split on the county board and winning the countywide offices they challenged.
Meanwhile, Democrats retained control of the Illinois legislature, the U.S. Senate and the White House.
Steve Kuhn, the chair of the DeKalb County Republicans, said his party has some soul-searching to do in light of those victories.
“It got our attention, yes,” Kuhn said. “Am I worried about it being a trend? I go back to the candidates – we have to make sure we have good candidates.”
But, upon closer inspection, the election results do not suggest a party in crisis. Despite some high-profile losses, the Republicans still hold the majority of countywide offices and are able to turn out the vote for General Assembly and congressional races.
Democrats have evened things on the county board, which now is split 12-12. Eight of the 12 races were contested; three had a party sweep the whole district while the other five were split between the parties. The 12-12 split is noteworthy in an election in which Republicans redrew the county’s districts before the election.
“A balanced board means the two parties have to cooperate. That’s always a good thing,” said Paul Stoddard, county board member and Democratic vice chair. “When you have a more evenly divided board and electorate, that means nobody can take an election for granted. You have to be responsive.”
From 1979 to 2005, Republicans controlled the county board. But in 2004, the Democrats won enough board seats to even things out.
Since then, the difference between majority control and a split board was always one seat.
When the Republicans took control in 2010, they earned the right to draw new county board districts.
And while Democrats won all of the contested countywide races, there are more GOP countywide officeholders. If one were to count all of the countywide races on Election Day, Republicans carried the day, 4-3.
Since 2000, there have been six instances in which a Democrat won a contested countywide race. Three occurred in 2012; the other three were Ron Matekaitis winning the state’s attorney’s race in 2000, 2004 and 2008. That means that two-thirds of the countywide races Democrats have won since 2000 are owed to him; he also won in 2012.
Some countywide Republican incumbents haven’t been challenged in years. The last time DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller was challenged in a general election was in 1996.
If one counts votes in all of the contested county races – the state’s attorney’s office, the regional superintendent, the circuit court judge and the various county board races – Democratic candidates received 76,045 while Republicans received 71,302.
But adding in Election Day’s uncontested races easily throws the vote total to the Republicans. Uncontested Republican state Rep. Robert Pritchard had more than 23,000 votes.
President Barack Obama again carried DeKalb County, but his appeal was not as wide as in 2008, receiving about 4,000 less votes in 2012. This year, he won only DeKalb and Afton Townships, while Republicans reclaimed areas they traditionally have won, including Sycamore, Sandwich, Genoa and Kirkland. Obama won those communities in 2008.
Outside of Obama’s victories, the last time a Democrat won the county was in 1996. President Bill Clinton carried DeKalb County with 44 percent of the vote. In that election, 10 percent of the county’s vote went to Reform Party candidate Ross Perot.
Voters in DeKalb County chose Republican representatives for the Illinois legislature, but it’s not like they had much of a choice. Of four races, only one was contested – the 90th House district, in which Republican Tom Demmer beat Democrat Thomas Boken, Jr.
Demmer will join Pritchard, Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, and Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon in a state legislature that has a supermajority of Democrats in both chambers.
The Democrats dominated the redistricting process, drawing some Republican incumbents into the same district. Some ran against each other – Syverson and state Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Shabbona – in the March primary.
But Lori Clark, Northern Illinois University’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and Springfield, said the GOP’s overall losses could not be chalked up to the map alone. She said the party as a whole lacked a message that could rally everyday voters. Kuhn expressed similar sentiments.
“If you talk to the everyday Republican voter, there are things on the platform that might not grab their attention,” Kuhn said. “We need to focus on our common core issues. Stronger economy, low taxes, strong defense, better education and personal safety.”
For Clark and other university lobbyists, it’s not so much party identification that matters as who’s sitting on the higher education committees, which mostly determine university funding.
Illinois had to lose one seat in its Congressional delegation after the 2010 census. In the next Congress, the state will be represented by 12 Democrats and six Republicans, a noticeable shift from the previous delegation of seven Democrats and 12 Republicans.