By PAUL M. GREEN
Analyzing the Illinois primary vote
The late Harry Welstein, a longtime Chicago political operative, once said, "All elections eventually turn into multiple choice not essay exams." Harry's description fit the Illinois March 17 primary elections. No presidential contender in either party generated much enthusiasm. Voters frustrated over economic, social and political developments beyond their control hoped and wished that their choices could have been expanded. They grudgingly selected a presidential candidate for the Democratic and Republican parties.
Even the dramatic upset in the Democratic U.S. senatorial primary was more a rejection of politics as usual than a reaffirmation of the political party process. Indeed, if this primary election could have been an essay exam, it would have been far more interesting for political observers seeking to understand the malaise that has infected our political system. To paraphrase former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker's famous Watergate line, the real question is: "What do the voters want, and who do they want to give it to them?"
Carol Moseley Braun's triumph over Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon generated far more national media coverage than Illinois' presidential primaries. She also bested challenger Al Hofeld in the three-way Democratic primary. Conventional political wisdom suggests that if two strong candidates challenge a longtime officeholder in a primary, neither will be successful because of the likelihood that they will split the anti-incumbent vote. Unfortunately for incumbent Dixon, Illinois' Democratic senatorial primary did not follow the conventional script.
In almost tag team fashion but in very different styles, challengers Braun and Hofeld worked over Dixon, and in the end Braun out-counted the incumbent. What made Dixon's defeat so newsworthy were the candidates' backgrounds and campaigns.
For decades Dixon was the most successful Democratic candidate in Illinois politics. In 1980 he was first elected to the U.S. Senate, overcoming a Republican landslide vote for presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Six years later Dixon won reelection by overwhelming the underfinanced campaign of state Rep. Judy Koehler. Always a winner, Dixon had developed strong political support among Republicans for his moderate views on many social and economic issues. It was this general perception of near invincibility that probably led him to cast an aye vote in the Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court justice. This single action combined with the general anti-incumbency mood produced a firestorm of criticism against Dixon and revealed his potential vulnerability to a primary challenge.
Braun, the Cook County recorder of deeds and former state representative, saw her opportunities and she took 'em. Using her gender and race as a vote base, she challenged Dixon. Her message to her party's voters was clear: She offered herself as a "true" Democrat. Ironically the fact that her campaign was so thoroughly disorganized probably helped her gain victory as it encouraged Hofeld, the very wealthy Chicago lawyer, to continue spending heavily on anti-Dixon media campaign advertising. To the end Hofeld believed he could win. The main result of his everlasting hammering of Dixon, however, was to help drive down the incumbent's support enough for Braun to win with 38 percent of the vote.
Four specific factors keyed the Braun victory:
• Braun's personality and charisma overcame her chaotic campaign to give alienated voters, especially women, an appealing alternative to Dixon.
• Hofeld, a man with no public record but much money and with the shrewd direction of consultant
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David Axelrod, was able to piece together a campaign strategy that made his anti-Dixon attacks creditable.
• Dixon stayed at the dance one song too long. The incumbent appeared old and out of touch with 1992 political realities. His own paid media advertising was terrible, and unfortunately for him his best campaign talk was his concession speech.
• Braun avoided the negatives (in Axelrod's words: "Braun remained below the fray"). Like the 1983 Democratic mayoral primary in Chicago when Harold Washington defeated two highly publicized protagonists, Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, Braun stayed clear of the vicious media slugfest between Dixon and Hofeld that wound up hurting both their campaigns.
Braun won with a majority of the Chicago vote, 40 percent of the suburban Cook County vote and 38 percent of the collar county vote. Only downstate did not give Braun a plurality.
In Chicago 15 African-American wards gave her over 80 percent of the vote; 12 other wards gave her at least 50 percent. She also ran especially well along the lakefront. Most surprising was her stunning performance in the heavily Jewish and predominantly white northside 50th Ward. In this ward Dixon beat Braun by only nine votes, and Hofeld came in a close third. Middle-class southside black wards gave Braun huge margin victories with the 6th Ward, formerly led by Eugene Sawyer and now led by Alderman John Steele, giving her a margin of more than 14,000 votes.
Dixon's best city wards were on the southwest side. House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's 13th Ward and Mayor Richard M. Daley's 11th Ward gave Dixon more than 60 percent of their vote. Dixon was able to win a majority of the vote in only three other wards (12th, 14th and 23rd). On the northwest side Hofeld slashed deeply into Dixon's numbers, holding the incumbent to low 40 percent plurality victories. Cut off from piling up huge margin wins on the northwest side, Dixon left Chicago trailing Braun by more than 123,000 votes.
In suburban Cook County Braun won 13 townships that had either significant black populations or liberal voting tendencies. She also ran well in rock-ribbed north suburban GOP townships where the usually overmatched Democratic voters were joined by GOP crossovers. Hofeld also did extremely well in these upscale suburban areas, matching Braun with 13 township wins. Dixon was left with only four township victories (Berwyn, Cicero, Stickney and Worth), doing well only in the working-class west and southwest suburban area.
Of special interest is the mammoth 9,610-vote margin given to Braun by the liberal and racially mixed Evanston Township. It shows that given the right circumstances, Cook County suburban Democratic primary voters can produce the massive margin numbers formerly associated only with Chicago. In only one Chicago ward, the 13th, was Dixon able to surpass the victory margin produced by Evanston Township for Braun.
In the collar counties, Braun and Hofeld ran neck and neck with Dixon coming in a distant third. Braun won DuPage, Kane and Lake counties, while Hofeld carried McHenry and Will. Dixon was shut out; he ran third in each of the five counties with his best showing in Will County with more than one-fourth of the vote.
Downstate was supposed to be Dixon's electoral hammer. Instead, in perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Democratic senatorial primary, Dixon was unable to win a majority downstate. Dixon, the downstater from southern Illinois who has worked county fairs and court houses for decades, was denied the majority by two Chicago opponents who at the campaign's inception were unknowns south of Interstate 80 and west of Illinois 47.
It was obvious that Hofeld's massive statewide media blitz hurt Dixon badly downstate. The Chicago lawyer won almost one-third of the downstate vote and carried 15 of the 96 counties. Hofeld did best downstate in west central and northern Illinois. Although he was unable to gain a majority in any county, he scored plurality wins over Dixon in such important and populous downstate counties as Winnebago (Rockford), Rock Island and Peoria. Hofeld's day and night bashing of Dixon on local TV from
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Cairo to Freeport made the Chicago lawyer known, accepted and believed by many voters. Speculation suggests that if Hofeld had not been in the race using expensive and extensive TV campaigning, most of his downstate voters would have supported Dixon.
Braun won three downstate counties: Champaign, DeKalb and McLean (Bloomington-Normal). Each has a large state university campus where the anti-Dixon fallout from the Thomas hearings was demonstrated vividly. Braun also beat Dixon in Kendall and Winnebago counties, which Hofeld carried.
Dixon won 80 downstate counties. In 11 far southern Illinois counties he won over 70 percent of the vote, but all those counties are lightly populated. A Belleville native, Dixon ran far below form in his huge home southwestern Illinois county of St. Clair (61 percent) and in the adjacent and equally huge county of Madison (53 percent). Part of Dixon's problem was Braun's appeal to a sizable number of black voters in both counties, but Hofeld received 8,855 votes (26 percent) in St. Clair and 11,698 votes (34 percent) in Madison. Losing this large number of votes to Hofeld in these two traditional Dixon strongholds signaled the outline of the incumbent's defeat. Even with his loss of votes in Chicago and its suburban counties, Dixon still could have beaten Braun if he had thrashed Hofeld in the south. He could not and he lost.
The forgotten man of the Illinois primaries was the Republican running unopposed for the U.S. Senate nomination. Richard Williamson is a lawyer from suburban Cook County and a former White House aide to Ronald Reagan. Williamson is highly intelligent and well versed on the issues, but many Illinois GOP leaders before the primary saw Williamson in the role of a respectable sacrificial lamb who would face incumbent Dixon in the general election.
The surprising Braun victory has energized state Republicans, who now want Williamson to come out roaring like a lion. Rumblings aside that the party's right wing is unhappy over his alleged switch to a pro-choice position on abortion, Williamson and the Republicans now have an opportunity to win an Illinois U.S. Senate seat in November.
Given the incredible publicity generated by her upset of Dixon, Braun must be considered at this time a favorite for November. For Williamson to defeat Braun, he must be an effective campaigner, unify the hard core Republican vote and turn the heat on Braun and her public record as an elected official. If he accomplishes all of the above, Williamson would attract enough financial contributions to run a "Hofeldish" type statewide campaign. Meanwhile, Braun must keep her concentration on the Illinois campaign. Catapulted to national fame in March as a symbol for women attempting to break into the old boy club of the U.S. Senate, Braun will have to counter the GOP attacks on her record.
In the Democratic presidential primary, the multiple choice on the Illinois ballot was between former California Gov. Jerry Brown, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Clinton won, mainly by outworking his opponents. He and his advisers totally understood the complicated party nominating process, and a cornerstone to their game plan was Illinois.
Ever since former U.S. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota carried through his reform rules on the Democratic party after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the party's presidential nomination has gone to the candidate who manipulated the rules by out-organizing and out-fundraising his opponents in the year preceding the actual election year. Also, ever since McGovern reformed the rules, the Democratic party has won the White House only once: Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In the party's zeal to "frontload" the selection process (have many primaries early in the year) and to find a moderate nominee via a Super Tuesday multistate primary dominated by Southern states, the Democratic party literally scripted a Clinton-type nomination. Clinton shrewdly overloaded his campaign team with Illinoisans since Illinois' March 17 primary would follow Super Tuesday by one week.
The Clinton strategy was simple. On Super Tuesday he would stagger his opponents down South, and seven days later he would knock them out in Illinois. Despite the fact that on the way to Illinois Clinton received more hits than former heavyweight boxer Max Schmelling took in his second fight against Joe Louis, Clinton's strategy worked.
Coming into Illinois Clinton had weathered the attacks on his character and the revelations about his past. He had swept the South on Super Tuesday. His only remaining challengers were Tsongas, a charming man who had a message more attuned to moderate Republicans than traditional Democratic primary voters, and Jerry Brown, whose conversion to a Frank Capra-style populism, had carved for him a small chunk of the Democratic electorate. Given Clinton's political endorsements, financial resources, field organization and shrewdly styled message, the three-way race in Illinois should have been no contest. But the laundry list of alleged character flaws against Clinton made it exciting since Clinton's only real challenger
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was himself. In the end, Clinton's Illinois victory was a victory of organization and a lack of alternatives (the Welstein thesis).
Clinton did best on Democratic turf in Chicago and downstate. Tsongas's middle-class and upscale message challenged Clinton in the suburbs. Brown ran his best in the suburbs but always far behind Tsongas. (See table 4.)
In Chicago overall, Clinton carried 46 of the 50 wards and easily doubled the totals of his nearest challenger. Clinton received overwhelming black support. Percentagewise his top 17 wards were all African-American majority wards, and in 14 of them he received over 80 percent of the major candidate vote. Clinton also ran well in Hispanic and white ethnic wards. In only 15 wards did he receive less than 50 percent of the major candidate vote. Though black turnout was down, Clinton piled up huge vote margins in the African-American wards. Each of the three middle-class, far southside black wards (6th, 8th and 21st) gave Clinton 11,000-plus vote victories. Among the predominantly white wards, Mayor Daley's home 11th Ward gave Clinton his largest margin win (3,933 voters).
Tsongas won the other four Chicago wards (40th, 42nd, 43rd and 44th) on the lakefront and north side, but only in the 43rd Ward did he receive over 50 percent of the major candidate vote. These wards are dominated with better educated and more affluent voters, who responded to Tsongas's message.
In suburban Cook, Clinton's victories came in working-class and racially mixed townships, and Tsongas ran best in upscale and liberal townships. Brown threatened neither Clinton nor Tsongas. Tsongas's 13 township victories were mainly in the northern and western suburbs. New Trier Township gave him his largest win with 63 percent of the major candidate vote, beating Clinton by 4,314 votes. Winning the other 17 townships, Clinton showed greatest strength in the southern suburbs and the blue-collar western suburbs. Thornton Township gave Clinton a victory margin of almost 8,000 votes, while Proviso gave him a margin of more than 6,400 votes.
In the collar counties, Tsongas won the two wealthiest, DuPage and Lake, and did well in Kane and McHenry, despite losing them to Clinton. Only in Will County with its black and working-class base of Democratic voters was Clinton able to put big numbers on the board: Clinton beat Tsongas in Will County by over 7,600 votes, winning more than 50 percent of the major candidate vote. Brown showed his only competitive edge in the collars, winning almost one-fourth of the major candidate vote in McHenry County.
In the rest of the state, downstate's 96 counties, the Arkansas governor ran almost as a favorite son the farther south you go. He lost only one downstate county to Tsongas: Champaign. Eight deep southern Illinois counties gave Clinton over 80 percent of the major candidate vote. The twin towers of Democratic downstate votepower, Madison and St. Clair counties, each gave Clinton margin victories of more than 17,000 votes. In explaining the huge Clinton vote one local official from southern Illinois said bluntly, "Our boys don't vote for anyone whose name they can't pronounce or someone who sounds like he is from another planet." While a bit crude, that's a restatement of the multiple choice thesis. Considering Clinton's appeal to both blue-collar and black voters, his downstate landslide was not surprising.
Overall Clinton won 70 of the 107 national convention delegate spots contested on the March 17 ballot. Tsongas garnered 27, while Brown won 10. The rest of the 183-member Illinois delegation will be selected by the party's state central committee, and they will also be overwhelmingly pro-Clinton.
The Republican presidential primary between President George Bush and former news commentator Pat Buchanan was no contest. As in the 1976 Gerald Ford-Ronald Reagan primary showdown, the conservative challenger was no match for the more moderate incumbent. The campaign of Buchanan, the conservative from Virginia, was poorly organized, underfinanced, pitifully led and unfocused. Bush won more than three-fourths of the primary vote, carried all 102 counties and won by almost 450,000 votes. The president also won almost all the Illinois delegates to the GOP national convention.
Illinois' March 17 primary has put Illinois center stage for the November general election. The Braun/Williamson campaign could be a classic test of styles between two very intelligent candidates. A Bush/Clinton match-up should produce another close presidential contest. The possibile addition to the field of independent candidate H. Ross Perot will complicate the political mix even more. Who will be hurt most by Perot, the Texas billionaire, is debatable, but using the Democratic Senate primary as a case study, Perot could easily be the Al Hofeld of the presidential race. That could mean more trouble for Bush than Clinton in Illinois.
Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration at Governors State University. The author acknowledges the assistance and efficient service in obtaining election results. His thanks go to Pat Freeman and Merle Weiner of the Illinois State Board of Elections, Connie Kaplan and Chris Robling of the Chicago Board of Elections and David Orr, Cook County Clerk.
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