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Candidates, campaigns and cash
How Madigan beat the map
in the 92 Illinois House elections

In early August of 1992, supporters of Vickie Moseley held a car wash in the parking lot of a small north end Springfield furniture store. Business was very slow. The home-made signs urging people to stop drew hundreds of blank stares and about two dozen customers. As the Democratic candidate for the House seat in the 99th legislative district, Moseley's chances of beating the well-known Republican candidate, county Sheriff Bill DeMarco, seemed nonexistent. The 99th had been carefully drawn to elect a Republican and much of the district was in Sangamon County with its powerful Republican organization. Three months later, Moseley had won an easy (59 percent to 41 percent) victory and two months after that Michael J. Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, was elected to his fifth term as speaker of the Illinois House.

When Republicans won control of the redistricting process in the fall of 1991, conventional wisdom suggested that the Senate would surely go Republican, while the Democrats' control of the House might be in jeopardy. Moseley's victory and the role that Madigan played in it illustrate why Democrats were able to maintain control of the House in spite of a map carefully drawn to favor the election of Republican candidates. The House Democrats' winning strategy relied on good candidates, smart campaigns and a lot of help from the speaker, and demonstrated why it's not always wise to trust conventional wisdom.

Figure 1. Results of 21 targeted House races, 1992 (Close races decided by fewer than 1,000 votes, competitive races by between 1,000 and 5,000.)
Figure 1. Results of 21 targeted House races, 1992
Spending reports filed with the State Board of Elections by candidates for the Illinois House indicate that the fight between Speaker Madigan and House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46) for control of the House was contested in 21 targeted districts, out of the 118 House seats up for election. Districts were classified as targeted if both legislative leaders provided substantial resources to their party's candidate, if one leader provided significant backing to a candidate challenging an incumbent of the other party or if one invested a lot in a challenger in a district which strongly favored the other side.

The 21 targeted races were in the 34th, 35th, 36th districts in or near Chicago; the 47th around Cicero; the 58th, 59th and 60th in the northern Chicago suburbs; the 68th in Rockford; the 73rd in Sterling; the 74th in Davis; the 77th in Elmwood Park; the 80th in Park Forest; 85th in Kankakee County; the 87th in Livingstone County; the 95th in west central Illinois; the 99th in Springfield; the 102nd in east central Illinois; the 103rd and 104th in Champaign-Urbana; the 106th along the Indiana border in Clark and Edgar counties; and the 110th in Madison County. Based on past electoral performance, six of the districts were strongly Republican, 14 leaned Republican and one was considered competitive by each party.

Of the 97 remaining races which were not targeted, the Democrats won 55 and the Republicans won 42. While the Republicans had an advantage on paper in the number of these districts that strongly favored one party over the other, they failed to capitalize on their advantage because they did not seriously challenge a number of incumbent Democratic members running in Republican dis-

June 1993/Illinois Issues/17

tricts. Democrat incumbents won three districts by fewer than 2,000 votes where Republican challengers spent little money and received little or no support from the House Republican leadership.

For Republicans to win control of the House, they needed to win 18 of the 21 targeted races. Instead, 12 Democratic victories in the 21 targeted races produced the final margin of 67 to 51 in favor of the Democrats (see figure 1).

Of the 21 targeted districts, 12 were predetermined battles where both sides got in early and invested heavily, and nine opportunities taken as the campaigns developed. While the Republicans won seven of the twelve races that were predetermined battles, Democrats won seven of the nine races that became targets as the campaigns developed. This suggests Democrats had a greater ability to identify and respond to opportunities as the campaign progressed. An examination of the finance patterns for the targeted races reinforces this conclusion.

The Democratic success came despite a redrawing of legislative boundaries designed to thwart advantages Democrats gained when they drew the map 10 years earlier.

Figure 2. Spending by candidates and
House leaders in 21 targeted races, 1992
Figure 2. Spending br candidates and House leaders in 21 targeted races, 1992

Even so, district maps are important. Control over the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years in Illinois, allows the party in charge to draw a map for maximum political advantage as long as it meets state and federal constitutional requirements. The map drawn by the Democrats in 1981 is credited with salvaging Democratic control of the Senate while facilitating Democratic dominance in the House. The new map worked well for Republicans in the 1992 Senate races. Control of the Senate shifted from a 3 l-to-28 Democratic majority to a 32-to-27 Republican margin. A similar shift in the House would have replaced a 71-to-47 Democratic majority with a 63-to-55 Republican edge. Instead, Republicans gained only four seats and Democrats retained control of the House.

The importance of a favorable map can be seen in the race between two longtime incumbent legislators from the Champaign-Urbana area. The old legislative map created one district comprised primarily of the cities of Champaign and Urbana and a second district made up of the more rural areas in the surrounding counties. The rural district typically elected a Republican by a wide margin, the more urban district elected a Democrat and the corresponding Senate district elected a Republican. The Republican map adopted in 1991 created two new legislative districts, the 103rd and 104th, which split the cities of Champaign and Urbana and put each in a strongly rural district. This created two districts that leaned Republican and were among those 21 considered battleground races by legislative leaders.

The 104th district was drawn to force a contest between the Democratic and Republican representatives who had been representing the area during the 1980s. Given the political demographics of the new 104th, not even a well-financed campaign by an experienced, respected Democratic incumbent, Helen Satterthwaite, could prevent the equally well-funded incumbent Republican, Tim Johnson, from winning 61 percent of the vote. The corresponding 52nd Senate District elected the incumbent Republican senator with 58 percent of the vote. The new map helped Republicans defeat an incumbent Democrat.

A similar shift in the House would have replaced a 71-to-47 Democratic majority with a 63-to-55 Republican edge. Instead, Republicans gained only four seats . . .

But there is more to winning an election than a favorable map, as demonstrated in the neighboring 103rd legislative district. While the 104th House District and the 52nd Senate District were voting heavily Republican, Democrat Laura Prussing won a 34-vote victory in the 103rd House District. Republican candidate Gregory Cozad spent $197,000 on the election, including $42,000 from the House Republican leadership. Prussing was able to achieve relative parity by spending $171,000 but only because the Democratic leadership invested $130,000 in direct contributions and in-kind services to her campaign. The combination of a good candidate, a smart campaign and a lot of help from Mike Madigan allowed House Democrats to overcome the Republican map.

Democrats were also able to frustrate the intentions of Republican cartographers because they enjoyed an advantage in the number of incumbents seeking reelection. Fifty-two

18/June 1993/Illinois Issues

Democratic incumbents sought reelection to the House, while Republicans had only 27. Because of their large majority from the 1990 election, the Democrats had more incumbents to begin with. In addition, a number of Republican House members ran for Senate seats being vacated by the retirement of Republican senators, who were under no pressure to run again because of the adoption of a Republican map.

Figure 3. Spending by party leaders in 21 targeted House races, 1992 Figure 3. Spending by party leaders in 21 targeted House races, 1992
Incumbents have an advantage because they are well-known to voters, have experience running for office and winning and because they are a known quantity to special interest groups that supply campaign contributions. Incumbents also require less support and training from the legislative leaders than do new candidates. Most observers assumed that incumbency would not be as big an advantage for Democrats under the new legislative map because the Republicans had tried to force many Democratic incumbents outside of Chicago to run in substantially new districts. That assumption proved wrong. Of the 52 Democratic incumbents seeking reelection, 47, or 90 percent, won. Of the 27 Republican incumbents seeking reelection, 23, or 85 percent, won. Even with a new legislative map, incumbency has advantages.

The reelection of one Democratic incumbent illustrates how the advantage of incumbency and serendipitous events can overcome the benefits of favorable district boundaries.

Republicans drew the 100th House District, which shares Springfield with the 99th House District, to favor a Republican candidate. Much like their handiwork in Champaign County, mapmakers constructed the 100th district to include the homes of two incumbent lawmakers, Democrat Mike Curran and Republican Karen Hasara. The objective was to force Curran to run against Hasara in a district tailored to her, or to move north into the 99th district which was strongly Republican and also contained much more territory new to Curran.

But when incumbent Republican state Sen. John "Doc" Davidson of Springfield decided to retire, Hasara ran for the Senate and won a landslide victory with 69 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the well-known and widely respected Curran faced a challenger running for the first time and was easily reelected in the 100th district. Under the map drawn a decade ago by Democrats, the Springfield area had a Republican state senator and one Democratic and one Republican state representative. With Vickie Moseley's surprise victory in the 99th district, the Springfield area is now represented by a Republican state senator and two Democratic state representatives.

Two countervailing trends have dominated legislative elections in Illinois for the past decade. First, individual candidates, not political parties, have become the focus of the electoral process. It is a rare yard sign, direct mail brochure or media ad that mentions the candidate's political party. Candidates get elected as individuals, not party members. At the same time, the legislative leaders and the political action committees they control have become more powerful influences in the election process. Their power has increased because political campaigns are becoming increasingly expensive (see "Legislative campaigns: the meter is running" on page 20), and the leaders command large, sophisticated campaign organizations which raise and effectively spend large amounts of money. In the six months surrounding the 1992 general election, Speaker Madigan and the House Democratic Majority Committee spent more than $2.5 million, mostly on legislative elections. During the same period House Minority Leader Daniels and the House Republican Campaign Committee spent over $1.9 million. Money is important and the House Democrats had an advantage.

But using the money wisely is equally important. Going into the 1992 election, the House Democratic campaign operation was well-respected in Illinois political circles for picking or supporting good candidates and backing them with well-funded, well-organized, well-conceived campaigns. The House Democrats' spending on behalf of their candidates is concentrated on polling and targeting voters, preparing and mailing campaign literature and providing paid campaign managers and staff. (See "Financing legisla-

June 1993/Illinois Issues/19

tive elections in Illinois: the role of legislative leaders," Illinois Issues, December 1991.)

The leaders of each of the four party caucuses in the legislature have become the critical coordinators and financiers of legislative elections through the political committees and staff they control. However, the role of legislative leaders and their campaign organizations is not the whole story of cash and campaigns. Interest groups in Illinois invest heavily in legislative campaigns, both through direct donations of money and in-kind contributions of campaign staff, media ads, campaign literature mailings and voter contacts. A preliminary review indicates that interest group spending on legislative elections in 1992

Legislative elections in Illinois are a serious business, not for the faint of heart. Nor are they for the thin of wallet.

According to the expenditure reports filed by legislative candidates after the 1992 general election, spending on legislative races was up significantly from 1990. Even taking into account the increased activity in 1992 due to the new legislative map produced by redistricting, the spending figures are still dramatic. The expenditure figures reported here are for the period of August 1 to December 31 of the year of a general election and are the sum total of direct expenditures by the candidate and in-kind contributions made on behalf of the candidate.

There were five state Senate races in 1992 in which the combined spending reported by the two candidates exceeded half a million dollars. Slightly more than $5 million was spent on the 10 most expensive state Senate races. The Senate race in the 55th District was the most expensive, with a total of $763,000 in direct expenditures and in-kind contributions reported by the two candidates, Frank Watson, the incumbent Republican, and Craig Virgin, the Democratic challenger.

The record for a state Senate race is still the combined total of $823,000 spent on the 1990 race in the old 38th District between the incumbent Democrat, Patrick Welch, and the Republican challenger, Nancy Beasley. However, due to the election schedule for the state Senate set by the Illinois Constitution, only one-third of the Senate was up for election in 1990, and only one other race exceeded $300,000 in combined spending in the 1990 election.

The dramatic increase in spending on legislative elections can be seen most clearly in a comparison of the most expensive House races in 1990 and 1992. The entire House was up for reelection in 1990 and 1992. In 1990 there were seven House races with combined spending exceeding $200,000, and the 20 most expensive House races accounted for $3.7 million in spending. The most expensive race that year was in the old 110th District, where the Democratic challenger, Jay Hoffman, and the Republican incumbent, Ron Stephens, spent a combined total of $322,000.

In 1992 there were 17 House races with combined spending over $200,000. The 20 most expensive House races accounted for $5.4 million in spending, an increase of 46 percent over the total for the 20 most expensive House races in 1990. The most expensive House race in 1992 was in the 58th District, where the Democratic incumbent, Jeff Schoenberg, and the Republican challenger, James Henderson, spent a total of $421,000.

Legislative elections in Illinois have been very competitive over the past 20 years and should continue to be so. The stakes involved, control of the House and Senate, are high. Barring a forced cease-fire brought on by the passage of a new state law limiting campaign spending or unilateral disarmament by one or more of the legislative caucuses (both equally unlikely events), the escalation in the cost of legislative elections can be expected to continue.

Kent D. Redfield

Top spenders, 1992 House and Senate races
(asterisk indicates incumbent, winners listed first)





Watson* (R)/Virgin (D)



R. Dunn* (R)/Buzbee (D)



Dudycz* (R)/McGing (D)



Stern (D)/Keats* (R)



Cronin (R)/Leverenz* (D)




Schoenberg* (D)/Henderson (R)



Prussing (D)/Cozad (R)



Wessels (D)/Deets* (R)



Saviano (R)/Obrzut* (D)



Johnson* (R)/Satterthwaite* (D)



Steczo* (D)/Barnes* (R)



McAfee* (D)/Donoval (R)



Noland* (R)/Wolfe (D)



Stephens (R)/Daiber (D)



Ostenburg (D)/Regan* (R)


20/June 1993/Illinois Issues

was up by 50 percent over spending in 1990. For example, the Illinois State Medical Society provided over $88,000 of in-kind contributions to David Deets, a physician who was the incumbent Republican candidate in the 73rd House District. The House Republicans also contributed $54,000 of in-kind services to his campaign. The House Democratic leadership countered with direct contributions and in-kind services worth $112,000 to the Democratic candidate, Pennie von Bergen Wessels, who won a slim 378-vote victory in a district that leaned Republican and was counted as a Republican sure bet in most pre-election analyses.

The value of savvy campaigns and effective spending was also evident in the 99th House District where the campaign of Bill DeMarco never really took off. When the voters and the local media began focusing on the fall elections, his difficulty in articulating why he should be elected and what he would do if he won created an opportunity for his opponent. In contrast, Moseley picked up attention and local endorsements through a more focused campaign.

The average leadership contribution to Democratic candidates in the 21 targeted districts was $81,000, compared to an average of $45,000 for the Republican candidates

While polling in the fall showed that Moseley had become competitive, the advantage in money and local political organization still overwhelmingly favored DeMarco. What changed the dynamic of the election was the decision of the House Democratic campaign organization to put money and other resources into the race. Moseley's campaign received $52,200 in direct contributions and in-kind contributions (donations of campaign literature, postage, paid campaign staff, paid media spots, etc.) from the House Democratic Majority Committee and Speaker Madigan's political committee. While she was still outspent $95,900 to $67,640, the infusion of money from Madigan allowed her to mail campaign literature to households in the district and broadcast ads on television and radio. Those ads were widely regarded as effective in portraying her as a penny-pinching outsider ready to change the system. The candidate and the message were the critical factors, but they would have been meaningless if no one would have heard them.

Contests in the 103rd, 104th, 73rd and 99th districts where Democrats won three of the four were among those 21 districts targeted by legislative leaders as crucial for control of the House. Spending by the candidates in those 21 races totaled $5.6 million. With a few exceptions, these were the most expensive House races in the 1992 election. Not all the spending was in close races. Both sides made some of their largest investments in races where they had incumbent legislators lose badly (the 77th and 104th for the Democrats and the 35th and the 80th for the Republicans). Total spending was approximately equal between the two sides; Democrats enjoyed an advantage of $231,000, or $11,000 per race.

The most significant difference in the spending patterns in the targeted races was found in the proportion of the spending which came from the legislative leaders. Resources contributed by the Democratic leadership accounted for 58 percent of the total spending by Democratic candidates in the targeted races, while contributions and in-kind services from the Republican leadership accounted for only 35 percent of the spending by Republican candidates (see figure 2). Democratic leaders spent more than $1.7 million; Republican leaders contributed $947,000 to their candidates. The average leadership contribution to Democratic candidates in the 21 targeted districts was $81,000, compared to an average of $45,000 for the Republican candidates (see figure 3).

This general pattern was even more pronounced in the eight targeted districts where the outcome was close. In those districts, overall spending was equal between the parties, but the Democratic leadership's share was 68 percent, more than double the Republican leadership's 32 percent share of spending in those races. The average legislative leader contribution to Democratic candidates was $85,000, while the average for the Republican candidates was $40,000. Six of the eight close races were not predetermined battles; rather, they became target races during the campaign. Of those six, the Democrats won four. The importance of the timing and the focusing of spending was again clear, with the advantage going to the House Democrats.

Given the 1992 results in the races in the 99th, 104th and 73rd legislative districts, it is not surprising that the early line on the 1994 House elections is that Vickie Moseley, Laura Prussing and Pennie von Bergen Wessels will be among the top targets of Republicans as they seek to seize control of the House from Democrats. But Moseley, Prussing and Wessels will then be incumbents with all of the advantages that holding office brings.

The map will still favor Republican candidates in the districts they represent, all things being equal. However, the primary lesson of the 1992 election in the House may be that things are rarely equal. Good candidates, smart campaigns and a lot of help from a savvy legislative leader should continue to be more important than the boundaries on a map in determining who controls the Illinois House. 

Kent D. Redfield is associate director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center in the Institute of Public Affairs at Sangamon State University, Springfield. He is also professor of political studies. His ongoing research involves campaign finance and expenditures in Illinois, focusing on the General Assembly.

June 1993/Illinois Issues/21

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