Tom Kacich: Presidential candidates have mostly ignored us

Tom Kacich: Presidential candidates have mostly ignored us

It used to be that in presidential races, Champaign-Urbana and central Illinois mattered.

Not any more. It's been a long time — 1980 — since a presidential or vice presidential candidate visited Champaign-Urbana in the last few, crucial months before a presidential election.

Since then, a number of factors — especially Illinois' status as an electoral lock for Democrats who have won the state five straight times — have kept presidential contenders out of East Central Illinois.

The candidates barely visit any place in Illinois any more. In fact, probably no state has been ignored as badly by the presidential candidates this year as Illinois. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been to Illinois — the fifth most-populous state — a total of nine times since May 29, according to a compilation by the Washington Post (

Three of Obama's four trips to his home state, and four of Romney's five visits, were for fundraisers. All nine presidential candidate trips were to Chicago or the suburbs.

By contrast, Romney and Obama have been to Florida (the fourth most-populous state), a total of 55 times, and Ohio (No. 7 in population) 57 times.

California, Texas and New York — the top three in population — have been snubbed too, but not as badly as Illinois.

California — with about 12 percent of the U.S. population — has had 34 presidential candidate visits, 28 of them strictly to raise campaign cash. Texas, the No. 2 state, has had 14 visits, 10 of them fundraisers. And New York — third in population — has had 34 visits, 20 of them fundraisers.

Today, it's all about the battleground states, the 10 or so that will decide this year's presidential election with their (sometimes tiny) electoral votes.

Iowa, which ranks 30th in population among the states, has had 27 presidential candidate visits, 15 by Obama and 12 by Romney. Iowa has six electoral votes.

Besides Florida, Ohio and Iowa, the other states that matter are:

— Virginia, 13 electoral votes, 39 presidential contender stops.

— Colorado, nine electoral votes, 26 presidential candidate stops.

— Nevada, six electoral votes, 17 presidential candidate stops.

— New Hampshire, four electoral votes; 13 presidential candidate stops.

— Pennsylvania, 20 electoral votes, 11 presidential candidate stops.

— Wisconsin, 10 electoral votes, seven presidential candidate stops.

— Michigan, 16 electoral votes, seven presidential candidate visits.

(The most surprising statistic from the Post's map? Obama hasn't been to Michigan, home of the auto industry, for six months).

Generations ago, though, presidential campaigns were nationwide efforts. Sixty years ago this month, Dwight Eisenhower made a whistle-stop appearance at the Illinois Central station in downtown Champaign. His Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson, made a similar stop a few weeks later.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy made an appearance on the University of Illinois Quad two weeks before Election Day.

Progressive Party standard-bearer Theodore Roosevelt had planned two stops in Champaign during his presidential campaign in 1912, but couldn't make the second appearance because he had been shot the day before by a would-be assassin.

Harry Truman spoke in Tolono in October 1948, less than a month before upsetting Republican Thomas Dewey.

Ronald Reagan came to Champaign-Urbana in the spring of 1980 — before Illinois' primary election — but he sent both his wife and his running mate, George H.W. Bush, here in the last weeks before the general election. Nancy Reagan campaigned in Champaign-Urbana on Oct. 20, and Bush spoke at the UI Auditorium on Oct. 23.

County candidates finances. The Champaign County Republican Party appears to be concentrating on two countywide races, recently giving both Katie Blakeman and John Farney $20,000 more for their campaigns for circuit court clerk and county auditor.

The party had offered $10,000 contributions to all four countywide candidates running this year — Blakeman, Farney, recorder Barb Frasca and County Clerk Gordy Hulten — but the latter two turned down the offer, said Habeeb Habeeb, party chairman.

"We're all-in in all four races," he said. "We offered money to all four candidates."

But Hulten said he "was happy to be a team player," and pushed to have the $40,000 offer split between Blakeman and Farney.

"I have been blessed to have incredibly generous financial support from a network of friends," he said.

Blakeman has collected at least $34,000 in campaign contributions since becoming the circuit clerk candidate in April.

Barbara Wysocki, the Democratic candidate, has raised less than half that sum ($15,440), and at least $5,000 of it is from her own pocket.

Blakeman's major donors are the county Republican Party, $24,068; John and Maureen Reed, party chairman Habeeb and U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, each $1,000; Jeff Wandell, Wayne Weber, AFSCME and the Champaign County AFL-CIO, $500 each; and Jeff Frederick, $300.

Meanwhile, Farney has raised $33,826 since beginning his campaign last year.

His Democratic opponent, George Danos, has collected half that amount ($14,391), including about $2,300 he loaned to his campaign.

Farney's big contributors are the county party, $24,068; U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, state Rep. Adam Brown and Habeeb, $1,000 each; Champaign County Young Republicans, AFSCME and Hollie Morales of Champaign, $500; Linda Stark of Savoy, $300; and the Champaign County AFL-CIO and Eric Bussell of Savoy, $200 each.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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jthartke wrote on October 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

So I suppose the NG is against the electoral college then?  Or is Illinois just another one of those districts drawn by crooked democrats to ensure majorities?

As for the second half of this buried article, it amazes me when people can raise more money to run for an office than said office pays per year in salary.  Its almost as if, especially in the County Clerk's race, there were other intangible profits on the other side -- like control over voter registration.

DEB wrote on October 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

In some ways it is more amazing to me that candidates ever visited Champaign.  With 0.00065 of the national population, each candidate would visit us once for each 10,000 campaign appearances made.

I suppose though, since Romney has been campaigning nonstop for six years and Obama for about four, it is possible one of them has come close to 10,000 campaign stops.  (I'll have to see if I can look that one up!)

hambone3408 wrote on October 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I remember seeing Nixon in Tolono in 1960.


rsp wrote on October 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Ford came and stopped at Centennial High School. We had fun with the secret service doing all the preparations. The drama department had to build the stage and then rebuild it because they didn't want any flaws for him to trip on. We had a chance it interact with our government and we all learned and it was inexpensive by today's standards. Now they use a million dollar stage and are as isolated as possible.

Sid Saltfork wrote on October 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, spoke at Follinger Auditorium prior to winning the presidency.  Of course, he was a Democrat so that might not count.

EL YATIRI wrote on October 29, 2012 at 6:10 am
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Of course it don't count.  And if the GOP had the electoral lock this piece wouldn't have even been written.

seancpow wrote on November 01, 2012 at 10:11 am

Video of Kennedy's campaign stop at the University of Illinois: