Area voters and others signaled their displeasure with Gov. Quinn at the ballot box on Tuesday night
Was Gov. Pat Quinn's dismal showing downstate in Tuesday's Democratic primary election just a protest vote, or a sign that Democrats are so upset they'll sit out the November election?
Whatever the case, Quinn has work to do downstate, even though his base is — and more than half of his votes will come from — Cook County.
Quinn lost in about two dozen downstate counties — including Vermilion County — to Tio Hardiman. Yes, that Tio Hardiman, the former director of the Chicago-based CeaseFire anti-violence group. The Tio Hardiman who lives in west suburban Hillside. The Tio Hardiman who barely campaigned downstate and had virtually no money.
And even where Quinn won, such as Champaign County, he was less than impressive. He got 70 percent of the vote in Champaign County, 65 percent in Sangamon County (Springfield) and 55 percent in Macon County (Decatur).
Downstate state employees and union members are miffed at Quinn for his support of the pension reform bill, for ongoing budget cuts and for any number of other things, including gun control, not living in the governor's mansion and spending so much time in Chicago.
But will those people really vote for Bruce Rauner, who has spent the last year bashing "government union bosses"? Probably not, but they might find it too much to vote for Quinn.
Greg Lietz, head of the Democratic Party in Vermilion County, expressed sympathy for the governor.
"I can't put my finger on (why Quinn lost Vermilion County). I think it's probably a combination of things: It's the tough economy, and that the governor really hasn't spent a lot of time in this county," Lietz said. "Another thing that could be irritating some people here is that there's been quite an effort to get a gaming facility here in Vermilion County. I think the majority of people here would favor something that would put people to work. And his vetoing of those bills, I think, is another negative factor."
Quinn could help himself by showing up in Vermilion County, Lietz said.
"As always, the Vermilion County Democrats would love to have him come here and present his case. We'd love to host something like that," he said. "That would be my advice. Like anything else, when you run for office, you can't beat face-to-face contact."
In Champaign County, where the pension reform bill was a big deal and Rauner's support was comparatively weak (33 percent here to 40 percent statewide), it'll be interesting to watch where voters go in November. Four years ago, Republican Bill Brady outpolled Quinn in Champaign County, 55 percent to 39 percent.
But in Tuesday's voting, Rauner finished more than a thousand votes behind Sen. Kirk Dillard here.
For a lot of voters, it looks like it'll be the choice of the lesser evil.
House Speaker Michael Madigan took it on the chin in Champaign-Urbana on Tuesday when his candidate, Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg, lost the 103rd House race to Urbana City Council member Carol Ammons.
Esther Patt, an adviser to Ammons, said Madigan's overt backing of Rosenberg, including negative advertising and a carpet-bombing of mail pieces, turned off voters in Champaign-Urbana and was "a big part" of the reason Ammons won by 57 percent to 43 percent.
Ammons also had a bigger volunteer corps, Patt said, helping her win 35 of the 55 precincts in the district. Ammons was strongest in African-American, progressive and what Patt called "working class" neighborhoods, while Rosenberg succeeded in more affluent neighborhoods in central Champaign and south Urbana, according to Patt.
Meanwhile, Madigan's loss in Champaign-Urbana wasn't his only setback Tuesday. Two of his candidates lost in Chicago, and a third, Rep. Sue Scherer in Springfield, barely beat a virtual unknown.
"The speaker's organization did not have a good night," wrote Rich Miller of CapitolFax.com.
So what generated the biggest turnouts in Champaign County on Tuesday? There's a variety of answers.
Countywide turnout was 21 percent, just a little higher than in past nonpresidential primary years. There was a slight uptick in Democratic voters, although the majority (63 percent) were Republican voters.
Eleven precincts had turnouts of greater than 35 percent; the champion (again) was Cunningham 10 in central Urbana, where 48.2 percent of the registered voters voted. The big draw there was the Democratic race for Congress, where George Gollin got 68 percent of the 226 Democratic votes cast.
In second place was Cunningham 14, in south Urbana, where a number of races in both parties drew a good turnout. It helped that it's the home precinct of Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold, who got 107 of the 140 votes cast in the race.
City of Champaign 22, in south central Champaign, was third with a 42.6 percent turnout. It's a marginally Republican precinct, where the GOP races for governor and Congress (Rauner and Harold) were major attractions, as well as the Democratic race for Illinois House (Rosenberg).
Finishing fourth was Raymond Township, in southern Champaign County, where the big draw was a vote on a proposal to build a fire station.
Harold, the Republican congressional candidate from Urbana, allegedly at one time was polling 40 percentage points or more behind Rep. Rodney Davis in their 13th Congressional District race.
But she ended up losing by about 13 percentage points, a respectable showing for a challenger who was outspent by the incumbent.
Harold won Champaign, Piatt, McLean and DeWitt counties, and clearly has a political future. Where and when it will blossom again is up to her. She said Tuesday that she plans to stay in Champaign County but isn't thinking about politics for now.
Winners and losers from Tuesday's election
The Urbana Democrat and her grass-roots campaign exceeded all expectations in defeating a Michael Madigan-backed opponent for the Illinois House by about 14 percentage points.
The Champaign County Board Democrat thumped her challenger, former county auditor and former Democratic Party chairman Tony Fabri, by more than 3-to-1. More than a blowout.
They finally have some reason for optimism with a gubernatorial candidate who has unlimited money, name recognition and a badly weakened opponent.
The Democratic governor lost entire counties — including Vermilion — to a little-known, underfunded candidate, Tio Hardiman. Statewide, Hardiman — in a sure protest vote by Democrats — got an astonishing 28 percent.
Champaign Co. Board Chairman Al Kurtz
Not only did Kurtz lose his county board race by 25 percentage points but he took fellow board member Ralph Langenheim with him.
Election campaign haters
The Quinn/Rauner gubernatorial race, the Durbin/Oberweis Senate contest and the Davis/Callis congressional duel mean gigantic sums will be spent next fall on mail pieces, and TV and radio advertising.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column normally appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.