[Cross-posted at WurfWhile.com]
I became politically active locally almost three years ago with the Howard Dean campaign. I remember attending my first meetings at the township level and talking about Howard, and what his campaign represented. While generally received well, I found that people who had spent many years with the local Democrats were concerned that newcomers like myself would be gone with the presidential campaign. I, and a number of others from the DuPage for Dean campaign, stayed involved.
Dean supporters and other Democratic activists have sought to reinvigorate progressive politics in DuPage, and while we have made progress, it has fallen short of electoral success. We have, from time to time, reevaluated what it is we're doing, and discussed how to do it better. Its from analysis over the years that I feel confident in saying:
Things are about to change in DuPage.
I wish that a lot of the hardworking people who have devoted tremendous amounts of time and energy over the years working for progressive change in DuPage could get more of the credit. Their effort deserves recognition, and it has helped. But the change that is coming is not primarily my work, or the work of those who have worked with me, or even those whose work I have admired but not directly participated in. If we have worked with sticks scratching the ground to plant seeds, the change that is coming is a plow, and it will magnify our efforts and offer more meaningful harvest. The change is demographic and political - and it will revolutionize DuPage politics beginning (and perhaps winning) in 2006 and in 2008.
Demographically DuPage has turned increasingly Democratic as people from around the country move here and people from Chicago move to the suburbs. As DuPage loses older residents it tends to lose more Republicans. While Demographics alone likely would produce competitive races over time, political considerations accelerate the trend.
Politically Republican DuPage and Democratic Chicago have often left each other alone, each party ceding political influence over geography to the other. DuPage, while the second biggest county for Democratic votes in Illinois, has always lacked basic funding and infrastructure from the state Democratic Party. Likewise, the Cook County Republican organization this year had less money in the bank at one juncture than each of a number of Township Democratic organizations in DuPage. While the status quo no doubt reflects political wisdom and calculations, those calculations changed November 2004.
Christine Cegelis' 2004 campaign against Congressman Henry Hyde in the 6th Congressional District (encompassing DuPage and parts of Cook County) showed that demographic change combined with an unpopular president (and a disastrous U.S. Senate candidate) had worked wonders. While some Democratic nay-sayers have pointed to Christine receiving fewer votes than John Kerry in the district (a 3% gap) - that misses the point (see below). DuPage voters have been increasingly willing to vote for Democrats at the top of the ticket, but votes trail off for those lower down, where funding for Democrats (and name recognition) has been virtually non-existent. There was no reason that Christine Cegelis should have name recognition with her limited campaign dollars. There was every reason that Henry Hyde, the congressman since 1974, should win based on name alone. Christine coming up with over 44% of the vote was earth shattering for DuPage. It proved votes were there for a Democrat at the congressional level with adequate funding - something voters in Hyde's district hadn't seen since before he was elected. After his first election, Congressman Hyde had always won by over 60% and as much as 75%, with the exception of the challenge he faced in 2000 against Brent Christensen, a lawyer with labor union and airline ties, who had lived in the district 33 years and spent $250,000. The 2000 election also was a referendum on Hyde's leading role in the unpopular Clinton Impeachment proceedings - something that was history in the minds of most voters by 2004, if it was remembered at all.
Congressman Henry Hyde's Winning Percentages
(see this pdf):
2004 (56%); 2002 (65%); 2000 (59%); 1998 (67%); 1996 (64%); 1994 (74%); 1992 (66%); 1990 (67%); 1988 (74%); 1986 (75%); 1984 (75%); 1982 (68%); 1980 (67%); 1978 (66%); 1976 (61%); 1974 (53%)
Local and state Democratic leaders saw the 2004 election in the 6th District and were impressed. This year we see the results. Four Democratic candidates have run for the 6th Congressional seat (one has dropped out). The current candidates, independent businesswoman Christine Cegelis, Wheaton College Professor Lindy Scott and the recently entered Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth all have better organization and funding than the vast majority of Democratic candidates that sought to defeat Congressman Henry Hyde. Far from a Democratic stronghold, contested Democratic primaries in the 6th District occurred only half the time in the last decade - and all those primaries had only two candidates.
Democratic Primaries in the 6th Congressional District
2004 (contested (2) Christine Cegelis (won), Tom Berry); 2002 (Tom Berry, uncontested); 2000 (contested (2) Brent Christensen (won), Tom Cramer), 1998 (no primary candidate), 1996 (Stephen De La Rosa, uncontested) 1994 (contested (2) Tom Berry (won), Keith "Jekyl" Petropoulos)*
* After hitting "Jekyl" I figured the larger point was made!
While it took Brent Christensen $250,000 to get 41% of the vote in 2000 (3% less than Al Gore in the district, and 6% less than Gore and Ralph Nader combined), Christine spent only $197,000 and got 44% of the vote in 2004 (3% less than John Kerry). Less money yielded a better percentage of the vote with less of a spread between the congressional candidate and the presidential candidate (most of the 3% Nader vote was likely Democratic). Christine Cegelis' campaign sent a message: Democratic positions and values can win in the 6th Congressional District.
Beyond the 6th Congressional District
The 6th Congressional District isn't necessarily representative of DuPage, and includes parts of Cook County, but it is the harbinger of things to come. The 14th District of GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, covering a small part of DuPage, is hardly a traditional place to find numerous Democrats seeking office. Despite long odds, there has been an energetic Democratic primary race with three candidates (two that remain). The active candidates, John Laesch, who has developed an organization quickly and looks to be the front-runner and Ruben Zamora, who ran an intense campaign for the seat in 2004, are both articulate progressives running serious, if underfunded, races. Neither candidate has illusions about their chances, but both are running to win and see merit in pinning Congressman Hastert down in his district - something deserving the thanks of all Democrats and progressives.
If the 6th and 14th District races have attracted the most attention until now, it's the 13th Congressional District that could be the most telling - if only because it lacks the 'Cegelis breakthrough factor' and has better odds than the 14th District. The 13th District is largely in DuPage County, with parts of Will and Cook Counties. The race against incumbent Congresswoman Judy Biggert (first elected in 1998) has attracted two Democrats, setting up a primary between Bill Reedy, a Downers Grove businessman and former minister, and lawyer Joseph P. Shannon, a partner at Dolan & Shannon, who lives Woodridge, and previously lived in Naperville for about eight years. Both candidates will be better funded and organized than Gloria Andersen's campaign against Congresswoman Biggert in 2004, which raised $37,000 and lacked even rudimentary staff, but still got 35% of the vote (the Biggert campaign spent $543,000). The winner of the Democratic primary will likely face Representative Biggert, who faces a primary challenge on her right from Bob Hart, a Naperville architect who was a write-in candidate in 2004 and will run on an anti-abortion platform.
Three contested congressional Democratic primaries in DuPage in one year - with nine candidates participating (seven left) - and other high caliber candidates seriously considering running. It is no stretch to say there were people that never would have believed it would happen. Ever.
While one (maybe two) Democratic wins are possible in 2006, I expect we will have at least one Democratic congressional representative by 2008. Optimistic? Perhaps. Realistic? Yes. Demographic changes, candidate quality and the political environment have improved that much.
What will take longer is for state and local level races to catch up to the demographic and political trends, but they will. With at least one Democratic congressional representative, DuPage will begin to build the infrastructure necessary to develop future Democratic officeholders. The people I have worked with these past few years have often recognized the deficit local DuPage Democrats face, locked out of power at many levels of local, state and national government (the main exceptions being State Senator Don Harmon, who's district is mostly in Cook County, our statewide officials and our (statewide) U.S. Senators). A DuPage Democrat in congress will set the stage for greater competition in DuPage elections. Greater competition tends to foster greater accountability in elected officials, regardless of party. It's something we can all look forward to in DuPage.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
[Cross-posted at WurfWhile.com]