Not so long ago, conditions seemed ripe for Illinois Republicans to gain ground in the 2022 midterm elections.
Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state’s longtime Democratic Party leader faced, a major federal corruption indictment, unemployment lagged other states, and inflation was running at a 40-year high as gas prices spiked because of fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And of course, midterm elections rarely go well for the party of the incumbent president with off-year elections typically favoring the party out of power.
All of the above should have added up to a good day for Republicans.
But last Tuesday was instead an unmitigated disaster for the Illinois GOP — losing every race for statewide office and falling further into super-minority status in the statehouse.
It’s prompted calls from within for some soul-searching.
Illinois Republican Chairman Don Tracy called the results “very disappointing” in his weekly newsletter and noted that while the party did well downstate and “slightly better” in Chicago it did “terrible in the suburbs.”
Former Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady thinks there were a number of factors that came together to make for a bad night for Illinois Republicans, starting with the continued influence of former President Donald Trump.
“I think there’s a Trump-effect hangover north of I-80 that probably had a lot of people that might have voted Republican who voted Democrat,” said Brady, who also pointed to money being misspent on consultants rather than helping candidates as an issue.
“We had some great candidates,” said Brady. “We had a money deficit because of the consultants that came in during the primary and basically drained all our money. And I think we maybe misfired on some of the issues.”
Aside from detailing Republican shortcomings, according to Brady, Democrats have simply run better campaigns.
“They have run good campaigns in the last two cycles and as Republicans we’ve got to figure out how we are going to work around them because they are pretty effective,” said Brady.
Tom DeVore, who was defeated by incumbent Democrat Kwame Raoul in the race to be Illinois attorney general, downplayed the influence of the former President Trump on the Republican’s poor electoral performance.
“Trump’s been gone a long time, so absent Trump would we have won any of these races? I don’t think so,” said DeVore. “There’s bigger issues at play from a structural perspective and an organizational perspective for the party in Illinois and I think that had a much larger impact on these races than any former president ever could have had.”
Republican state Sen. Jason Plummer agreed that the Republican Party in Illinois simply does not have the electoral infrastructure to compete effectively.
“We have an infrastructure problem here in Illinois regardless of the election cycle, regardless of names that people like to talk about,” said Plummer. “The fact of the matter is what we’ve done in Illinois Republican politics would be the equivalent of sending the Chicago Cubs out on the field without bats or gloves.”
Both DeVore and Plummer bemoaned in particular the lack of an early vote effort on the GOP side while noting the success of Democrats in turning out their vote.
“You’ve got to put your team in a position to win,” said Plummer. “And that includes county party organizations, precinct committeemen, get out the vote efforts – all of that blocking and tackling of basic politics – the Illinois Republican Party and the various entities affiliated with it just haven’t invested correctly in the infrastructure it takes to be competitive. That’s what we have to fix.”
Brady said that the GOP risks becoming completely irrelevant in Illinois unless it finds a way to unite.
“Going forward the factions between the north and the south have got to reconcile this or we’re never going to be able to win,” said Brady. “We’ve got to be on one team. There are a lot of things that probably people north of I-80 people can’t stand about President Trump. But there are a lot of things south of I-80 folks think maybe some of these policies, maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere. But if we don’t, right now we’re just about irrelevant.”