Tom Kacich: Election again demonstrates split in county
Last week showed again how on Election Day, Champaign County is actually two counties: the Democratic-dominated cities of Champaign-Urbana where Barack Obama won 67 percent of the vote, and the rural and suburban sections where Mitt Romney was the choice of 55.44 percent of voters. Romney lost all but one of the 62 Champaign-Urbana precincts, but he won 46 of the 56 non-Champaign-Urbana precincts.
The differences didn't end there. In fact the main reason Republicans dominated the countywide races — sweeping the four contested races — was the higher percentage of overall turnout in the rural and suburban areas. In 2008, 55.6 percent of Champaign County's general election votes came from Champaign-Urbana. This year that percentage dropped to 53.6 percent.
Turnout in Champaign-Urbana precincts tumbled by more than 5,000 votes — from 44,197 four years ago to 41,947 this year. Turnout in the rural and suburban precincts was off too, but only by 1,339 votes. It was 37,607 four years ago and 36,268 last Tuesday.
In only five of 39 Champaign precincts was turnout greater this year than in 2008, and in only three of Urbana's 23 precincts. Vote totals are still unofficial, however, until all absentee and provisional votes are counted.
The dropoff in Champaign-Urbana turnout, and especially in the University of Illinois precincts, was absolutely lethal to David Gill's congressional campaign. Gill came out of Champaign-Urbana with a good share of the vote — more than 61 percent. But his vote totals in Champaign-Urbana were actually lower than what the virtually invisible and underfunded Democrat Steve Cox got in the 15th Congressional District race in 2008. Cox got 24,648 Champaign-Urbana votes four years ago to Gill's 23,909 this year. And the campus precincts were especially problematic for Gill. He got just 2,882 votes there last week to the 4,720 that Cox collected four years ago. If Gill's campus totals had matched Cox's, Gill would be congressman-elect now instead of Republican Rodney Davis.
There was a reason for the lower campus turnout: Many campus area residents never got registered to vote this fall, according to Michael Richards, a Democratic county board member and a political strategist.
"In the 2004 and 2008 elections the progressive and Democratic groups on campus registered about 10,000 voters. I don't know how many they got this year but it was nowhere near where it was before," he said.
County records show that the 10 chief campus precincts in Champaign-Urbana had close to 7,000 fewer registered voters for this fall's election — 14,946 in 2008 to 8,084 this year.
Part of the reason, he said, is that Springfield-based Democratic operatives didn't work in Champaign-Urbana this fall, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that did work here on behalf of 13th Congressional District candidate David Gill got a late start and missed much of the voter registration period.
"I didn't see any lessening of enthusiasm among students for President Obama," Richards said. "We just didn't get to a lot of the new students."
Richards said he believes Democrats learned their lesson.
"I certainly hope the party realizes that it can't take the student vote for granted," said the 33-year-old Richards. "People shouldn't get lackadaisical about getting the student vote out."
Good news for Democrats. The news wasn't all bad for Democrats in Champaign County. Their presidential election winning streak was extended to six, starting with Bill Clinton's win in 1992 with 46 percent of the county's vote. That grew to 49 percent for Clinton in 1996, 48 percent for Al Gore in 2000, 50 percent for John Kerry in 2004, 57.57 percent for Obama four years ago and (unofficially) 51.84 percent this year.
Among just Champaign-Urbana voters the Democratic presidential wining streak reached seven, starting with Michael Dukakis' 54.8 percent in 1988. That was followed by 62 percent for Clinton in 1992, 61.7 percent for Clinton in 1996, 60.27 percent for Gore in 2000, 62.76 percent for Kerry in 2004, 71.3 percent for Obama in 2004 and 67 percent for Obama this year.
Second term vote shift. Obama's 8,219-vote drop in Champaign County between the 2008 and 2012 elections is unusually steep among second-term candidates. Bill Clinton's numbers dropped by 2,549 between 1992 and 1996, but George W. Bush gained 5,251 in the county between 2000 and 2004, and Ronald Reagan increased his vote total in the county by 5,895 between 1980 and 1984.
Davis' home county. Congressman-elect Rodney Davis is believed to be the first congressman ever from Christian County, a county of about 35,000 located southeast of Springfield and southwest of Decatur.
"Growing up in that community taught me the good, hard-working Midwestern values that I intend to take to Washington and make some of the tough decisions that need to be made," said Davis, who was born in Iowa. "What Taylorville has taught me was how to work in a bipartisan way. Christian County has not necessarily been a hotbed of Republican activism over the years."
In last week's election Christian County was kind to most Republicans, though. Only the Democratic candidate for state's attorney, among countywide races, was successful. Republicans got more votes for president, for state Senate, in two separate state House races and for Congress. Davis got 65.1 percent of the vote in his home county, beating even Romney's 60.3 percent.
Reception for Johnson and Cultra. The Active Senior Republicans of Champaign County will hold a reception Dec. 10 for retiring Congressman Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga.
The event, which organizers say will be informal, is scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m. at the Champaign Public Library. Attendees are asked to bring personalized cards for both Johnson and Cultra. Coffee and refreshments will be provided.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.