Tom Kacich: Dems plan to boost turnout
Borrowing a strategy that worked for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia's gubernatorial election last year, Illinois Democrats plan to run a coordinated campaign this year aimed at boosting their usual anemic turnout in midterm elections.
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"What we're all about is finding those voters, traditional Democratic voters, who voted for Obama but don't show up for this election," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told a group of Champaign County Democrats last Saturday. "We think that there are about 20,000 in Champaign County. Twenty thousand of them. I wish we could get all of them out, but getting even a percentage of them will make a difference. That's what this is about."
"This" is a relatively simple but time-consuming tactic: going door to door, identifying Democratic voters and getting them to sign a pledge card, promising to support the Democratic ticket in November. It helped McAuliffe win by a surprising 55,000 votes.
"They signed the card," Durbin recounted. "Then (the McAuliffe campaign) held onto the card until about 10 days before the election and they tore off this part and mailed it back to the voter and said, 'You promised to vote for Terry.' It was one of three mailings they sent. They needed 70,000 people to show up and they got 80,000."
One option being considered in Champaign County is to have pledge cards featuring Durbin, congressional candidate Ann Callis and state treasurer candidate Mike Frerichs, a state senator from Champaign.
In the last two presidential elections, Barack Obama got an average of about 44,000 votes in Champaign County. But in the midterm elections of 2006 and 2010, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate drew only about 18,000 votes in the county. Statewide the numbers were similar: an average of 3.2 million for Obama in 2008 and 2012, versus about 1.7 million for the party's candidates for governor.
"There's about a 1.6 million dropoff in voters in off-year elections (in Illinois)," said Cameron Joost, Durbin's downstate political director, "and about 1.3 million of them are Democrats. We figure that if we can get 20 percent of those, which is about 200,000 dropoff voters, we'll be set, we'll be good, from the top of the ticket all the way down."
Saturday's meeting at the local electricians hall was one of 38 held around the state, said Durbin, and is part of a more coordinated Democratic campaign in the state.
"We've never done it this way. We've seen it work and we believe it can work in Illinois," the veteran senator said. "Our goal is to increase the vote. We lose in off-year elections because of the big fall-off in voters."
Durbin said he's coordinating the effort, "but it's all the campaigns, with the blessing of the state party and (party chief Michael) Madigan and (Senate President John) Cullerton, everybody."
What's significant about the pledge card tactic, said Champaign County Democratic Party chairman Al Klein, is that the voter data collected will be shared among all Democratic candidates.
"The key difference is that this time is the willingness to share information," he said. "There's reason to believe that this year's coordinated campaign will be the most coordinated ever. The buy-in among all candidates is improved."
Durbin said that "all the information we collect is available to all Democrats. It may even help you in the next election."
Callis, the former Madison County judge who is challenging U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, also is working with Durbin to increase Democratic turnout, said her campaign manager, Marshall Cohen.
"We're going to be working with them as much as possible because I know that Sen. Durbin really cares about this district, and that we succeed," Cohen said. "But we're also going to be running our own program and we have a very robust operation that is going to be getting our message out to voters."
Durbin also acknowledged that a number of non-binding questions that the Democratic-dominated Legislature put on the November ballot will benefit Democrats.
"(Republicans) can't beat us on issues because we're there and they're not. We're for increasing the minimum wage, they're against it. We're for refinancing college loans, they're against it. We're for basic issues, like making sure that health insurance in the state has family planning included in it. They're against all of this stuff.
"And the good news is that this time around we got smart. Remember when we used to have all those ballot questions in Illinois? Were you like me and you'd read them and say, 'What the heck are they talking about? I don't understand this' and then we'd just skip over them. It was always about some obscure tax issue or something. This time around the ballot questions are going to be pretty simple. You want to raise the minimum wage to 10 bucks? You want to make sure that health insurance includes family planning in Illinois? They're basic questions. And those questions are the right questions for our voters."
Based on Durbin's remarks you'll probably be hearing a lot from Democrats about the minimum wage between now and Election Day.
"We did a poll in Illinois and we asked about the minimum wage. We said, is it important to you? We found out it was only important to four groups of voters: young voters, women, Hispanics and African-Americans. Sound familiar?" he said to laughter from the crowd. "So our friends in labor are going out and saying to everybody, Register now, you want to make everyone know that you want the minimum wage increased to $10 an hour."
Third-party congressional candidate
Josh Dill, the Danville native who is running a third-party effort to get on the 13th Congressional District ballot to oppose Callis and Davis, said he wasn't able to collect anywhere near the approximately 15,000 petition signatures he'll need to beat an expected challenge to his candidacy.
But he filed with the state board of elections as the Lincoln Liberty Party candidate anyway.
"A very depressing amount," he said in an email message. "We had some personnel changes that caused a lot of problems. Suffice to say that person was in charge of gathering them from all the volunteers and they 'disappeared' after he left the party. So I turned in the ones I gathered myself, which was less than 400."
John Fogarty, a Chicago attorney who frequently works with Republican candidates, already has filed to review Dill's petitions.
"They don't mess around," said Dill, who now lives in Springfield.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.