My preview of the Illinois primary is up at PJ Media. And with recent polls showing Romney pulling away to a double digit lead, it may turn out to be a blowout for the Mittster:
Silver’s model for Mississippi gave Santorum only a 2% chance of winning that race. But it may be asking a lot for the candidate to overcome Romney in a state that is tailor-made for his brand of Republicanism. Illinois’ history is replete with GOP moderates winning statewide races, including recent governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan, as well as a tradition of Senate moderates like Everett Dirksen and Charles Percy.
But the party has changed over the last 20 years and moderates have a far more difficult time in state-wide primaries. Moderate State Senator Kirk Dillard lost to social conservative Bill Brady in the GOP contest for governor in 2010. Brady narrowly lost to the politically damaged Democrat Pat Quinn, who served as impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor. But current GOP Senator Mark Kirk (rehabbing from a serious stroke) seems to have bridged the gap between the social right and more secular-oriented conservatives with a successful 2010 campaign that stressed economic issues and his leadership qualities.
So while there is a history and tradition of moderate conservatism in Illinois, recent candidates are decidedly farther to the right, reflecting the rise of social conservatives in the party hierarchy. Romney hopes to tap the latent strain of secular conservatism that is most prevalent in the sprawling suburbs of Chicago, while tea party folk and evangelicals, who will make up around 40% of the GOP vote on Tuesday, will break hard for Santorum.
There isn’t exactly zero enthusiasm for Romney in the metro area of Chicago. His rallies have been well-attended — as one would expect from the good advance work being done by his team. But they lack the fire of the true believers who are showing up in droves at Santorum appearances. Romney spoke at the University of Chicago on Monday where the crowd was large, respectful, and, if not enthusiastic, genuinely pleased with the candidate’s message:
Since the debacle of 2006 senate race where Jack Ryan — who had a decent shot of beating Obama — was forced out of the race because of revelations about his divorce to actress Jeri Ryan, (replacing him with the nincompoop Alan Keyes), the IL GOP has barely recovered its equilibrium. They nominated a hard line social conservative for governor in 2010, Bill Brady, who failed to beat an extremely vulnerable Democrat in Pat Quinn. The more moderate alternative — Ken Dillard — would almost certainly have won going away. But he lost to Brady by a scant 119 votes in the primary and Quinn won the general despite serving as Lt. Governor to the disgraced Rod Blagojevich.
Dillard was moderate — by today’s GOP standards. But recent GOP state-wide winners like Senator Mark Kirk and Judy Baar Topinka are more conservative than just about any state office holders in the 80’s and 90’s. The IL GOP has lurched to the right in the last decade as social conservatives are now dominating the party’s leadership. The result has been a shrinking of the number of self-identified Republicans in Illinois as many moderates have either switched parties or gone indie. The Chicago suburbs — once a bastion of Republicanism — are now far less reliable as GOP voters. This has made Illinois - once a classic swing state — as deep blue as any Democratic state in the union save Massachusetts when it comes to federal elections.
Mitt Romney will not recapture most of these moderates for the Republican party. His pandering to the social right might get him the nomination, but it is doubtful that he will beat Favorite Son Obama in November. Perhaps that was never possible. But until the IL GOP rights itself and gets back to its roots, they will continue to lose state-wide races to Democrats and keep Illinois in the Democratic column for presidential elections.