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Elections 2012

10 Lessons Learned From 2012 Illinois Primary

Low turnout isn’t all bad: no lines to vote, quicker returns, and you get to see where the diehard voters reside in each precinct. It also teaches you some new truths.

Lesson 1: Chicago Democrats are not the problem for downstate conservatives, it is apparently all Chicagoans.

The conservative leadership in Illinois has been preaching about the power of Chicago Democrats to block GOP staples like concealed carry, photo IDs on LINK cards, and any bill with the words Planned Parenthood in them. However, when given the opportunity to put one of their ideological match candidates on the presidential ticket they ran quickly to the moderate. Look for the bill to split Chicago from the State of Illinois to be pushed again soon.

Lesson 2: The Illinois Senate Black Caucus has a lot of pull with Senate President John Cullerton.

The amount of money that was dropped into the 5th District Senate seat to elect an ethically questionable Sen. Collins was eye-catching. Despite Sen. Collins’ weakness in her district, the seat was always going to remain in the Black Caucus’ column yet somehow there was the Illinois Senate Democrats Victory Fund giving her life support. In a big way.

Lesson 3: The Chicago Tribune still matters.

As a bleed-blue Democrat, I have always read the conservative leaning Tribune editorial board with a grain of salt. This year it was different. For starters, the still questionable decision by the Chicago Sun-Times to stop endorsing made the Sun-Times irrelevant to me in this election. For the first time since moving to Chicago, I wasn’t going to the other daily to get a balanced opinion.

The biggest effect the Tribune had was on its election coverage of the previously mentioned Senator Annazette Collins. The constant coverage on the senator’s legislative scholarships going to students living outside the district, came at a time when Patricia Watkins campaign was getting outspent and was at risk of being drowned out. Give credit to her campaign for seizing on the negative coverage (the line that Sen. Collins would be the next official arrested was devastating), but it was the Tribune‘s relentlessness that I believe helped turn that election back to Watkins favor.

Lesson 4: If you catch the party sleeping, you could sneak an election out.

The Will Guzzardi vs. Rep. Toni Berrios result had to be one of the more shocking results to come across my screen on election night. I always liked Guzzardi, but he was taking on a well-liked representative, who also just happens to be the daughter of the Cook County Democratic Party Chairman. Joe Berrios has his critics, but even after being slammed in the daily newspapers and the BGA, his organization pulled out a big win vs. the Democrat turned Independent Forrest Claypool. So logic would say Guzzardi’s attempt to unseat a fairly popular and politically connected state representative would be an impossible feat. At last count, Will Guzzardi trails in this race by only 111 votes. Someone caught the party sleeping, I pity the person who takes on Toni Berrios in two years. Will, I suspect you woke the party up.

Lesson 5: Chicago Democrats will vote for the devil himself before an Illinois GOP.

If you wanted any further proof that Republicans living in Chicago are irrelevant in Senate and House elections than you need just review the results in the Illinois House District 10. Representative Smith was charged with accepting bribes, you have a Republican on the ballot, and you still lose to the arrestee by almost 70%. Obviously the Illinois GOP might have had a slightly better chance if their candidate wasn’t participating in a modern form of blackface. Regardless, if you can’t win against a guy who was just arrested, you can forget about anything in the future.

Lesson 6: Regarding technology, elections are always a cycle behind. In Illinois, two cycles.

For all the hype about social media, tablet canvassing, and smart phone apps, a glance across the 2012 landscape and you were hard-pressed to find that many candidates using the tools well. It is not like we didn’t just get a tease from the Chicago mayoral election of what it can do for a candidate either.

Voter database systems have had mobile phone and tablet apps from before the 2010 election, yet campaign after campaign printed out canvassing sheets and call lists. (At least scanners are being used now; then again that is technology from the 2008 campaign.)

You were hard-pressed to find that many candidates that understood social media much less could use it well. A Facebook page that isn’t maintained is not a social media strategy any more than putting up one yard sign is a voter outreach strategy. Yet profile after profile, candidates rarely if ever updated their status. One candidate actually made five different Twitter accounts and then retweeted his posts among them. What possible logic went into that idea?

Lesson 7: Jesse Jackson, Jr. found his mojo.

My introduction to the Jackson family was made by the late Howard Pointer, a close friend of their family and former employee. (He also was the guy who encouraged me to get into politics – a friendly face that is missed). He introduced me to Alderman Sandi Jackson at several fundraisers, however my introduction to Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. came at probably the worst possible time. It was Sandi Jackson’s birthday fundraiser, and news crews from around the city had been stirred up about an affair that occurred some time before. Congressman Jackson was clearly shaken, hardly the strong-willed legislator he was reputed to be. While taking supporter pictures his happy appearance looked forced, other times he gave in to the weight of the media pressure and looked like he was ready to give up.

Over the past year, his appearances were infrequent. His campaign lacked the leader to support and the cheerleader to inspire. His perceived absence created an opening for former congresswoman Debbie Halverson to walk into. In politics if your candidate isn’t committed to go all out you rarely (if ever) have a shot, and subsequently the sharks started to circle.

There is no question the closing weeks of the campaign Congressman Jackson was more aggressive. The lopsided victory proves the Congressman’s base is still ready to fight for him. While he needs to still tighten up his office, in this campaign the Congressman has found his mojo. Like him or hate him, a confident and motivated Congressman Jackson is what that district and the City of Chicago needs.

Lesson 8: It doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside, if the candidates don’t inspire voters won’t show up.

I know David Axelrod wants to blame the GOP negative ads, but that hardly explains the low turnout in Illinois. The truth is the candidates and their challengers failed to connect to the voters. It says a lot about where we place our elections on the importance scale — when one of the tasks for candidates now is to explain why citizens should vote at all, not just who they should vote for.

Lesson 9: Seniors love bingo more than the issues.

Senior citizen bingo before elections has always been a favorite of committeeman looking to get into senior centers to squeeze a few extra votes. None more successful than this cycle where numerous ward committeemen “hosted” bingo nights in senior centers doling out $5.00 prizes and reminding them who cares. Not surprisingly, those senior centers delivered well for those committeemen. A little unethical, maybe. Effective? Indeed.

Lesson 10: The unions still matter at election time.

Over the past two years, I have wondered if the local unions have lost their importance in Illinois. I still contend the Chicago Teachers Union fell asleep while Springfield passed Illinois SB7, and powerhouses like SEIU and AFSCME have been far too supportive to legislators and recently alderman who continually take their money and ignore union concerns.

However, there is no denying the effect unions still have on getting a candidate across the finish-line. Mailings and dollars aside, the pure man-power that is provided on election day is just not matchable. When we are talking about small percentage point races, there is no question — union support makes all the difference.

About @Kylehillman

Kyle Hillman is a Social Media Political Consultant, Community Organizer, and Events/Fundraiser Manager. After over a decade working in nonprofit and government staff/advisory positions, Kyle Hillman is recognized as a successful small business adviser, author, social media strategist, and political consultant. He currently works for the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, as well as advises the NASW IL Political Action Commitee. Kyle has a Masters degree from Roosevelt University in Chicago and has the CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) certification. He currently lives in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.


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