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Friday, February 23

Gapers Block

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Iowa and New Hampshire. The two states are mentioned in the same breath so often that a foreign visitor may mistake them for one place, "Iowandewampshire." Their place as the bellwether states for presidential elections is a matter of extreme pride for locals — especially in the fiercely independent and political state of New Hampshire — and also an important boon to the local economy. Every three years, tens of thousands of political party functionaries, campaign workers, journalists and others pour into those states and spend tens of millions of dollars. The hospitality industries in those states are more or less completely reliant on the special position of the states in the primary and caucus season.

States, being led by state governments, which are in turn led by unimaginative bureaucrats who look for easy tax revenue the way anteaters look for, well, ants, couldn't help but envy Iowa and New Hampshire — or Iowandewampshire — and late last year decided they couldn't take it anymore. Why let Iowa and New Hampshire have all the fun (and easy tax revenue)?

The Race for the Earliest Primary was on, with states like Florida, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Georgia and Texas all rushing to become the new "We Pick The President So Come Interview People In Our Diners" State. The political bosses in every other state also understood the possible political ramifications — if they didn't move their state primary up, then they could miss out on building the key organizational relationships with incoming presidential candidates that state party officials from "important" states would be building.

In other words, they wanted to be part of the cool clique. If some rube in Georgia was going to become buddies with the next President, why shouldn't I?

Illinois wasn't about to miss out on the party, and we rushed to move our traditional March primary up to early February. The news was covered with stories about how this was done to help "local" boy Barack Obama by giving him a state early in the process; although no doubt partially true, the concern about Illinos' potential electoral irrelevance — not to mention potentially missing out on the chance to capitalize on an energized Democratic Party electorate — played a significant role, too.

Only in this case, the all-seeing, all-knowing Democratic Party boss, and Speaker of the state House Michael Madigan may have miscalculated.

Because Illinois' status as a Barack lock in 2008 means the other campaigns will more or less skip Illinois altogether (though Hillary Clinton will likely put up some kind of token resistance as a hat tip to her considerable donor base in Chicago and its suburbs). The Republican candidates, however, will have reason to compete here; Illinois has a curious blend of Republican voters, with a solid moderate base in Chicago's collar counties, along with a powerful bloc of religious and social conservatives in central and southern Illinois and Lincoln Chaffee/Olympia Snow style Republicans in Chicago. Every Republican candidate can reasonably expect to perform well in Illinois, and so statewide operations will be necessary.

This means political money coming into the state to hire local organizers, put together Republican Party events, and intensive volunteer and delegate recruitment in every population center in the state. This could mean the revitalization of a nearly kaput state party.

Just as the Howard Dean campaign helped to reinvigorate local Democratic Parties across the country with its Internet-based activist and leadership development, so could the competitive nature of the Republican Party build the core network of activists, volunteer, and donors that the right style of Republican politician could capitalize on in the successive elections following 2008; of particular concern, I think, would be if a viable senate candidate could link up with a presidential aspirant and from there go on to mount a serious challenge to Dick Durbin.

The problem with the Illinois Republican Party the last six years or so was that their statewide success had created a party organization that operated top-down, with big money funders and powerful statewide office holders. When scandal rocked those at the top — namely then Governor George Ryan — the organization broke apart, and the separate factions began to fight amongst each other, which only intensified the collapse; Alan Keyes was the result of infighting, and Judy Baar Topinka's compromise candidacy failing to perform even reasonably well against an unpopular incumbent showed that things weren't getting better.

However, a well-managed and activist or volunteer powered campaign for a presidential candidate is just the kind of bottom-up organizing that could push leaders who are more accountable to voters — and therefore likely more appealing to the population generally — to the top of the party, and finally liquidate the party of the relics, like Bob Kjellander, who still call the shots.

Of course, Michael Madigan does have a history of being able to predict the future from the reliquary of his dank Southwest Side castle as he plays the harpsichord, so I'm not going to bet against him.

Also, if anybody can bungle an opportunity like this, it is Illinois Republicans.

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kate / June 4, 2007 7:33 PM

Ramsin Canon, like a faithful woman, is a pearl of great price.

Any thoughts on the failed marriage amendment movement in Illinois, though? It goosed conservatives in other states but doesn't seem to have left much in its wake here . . .


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at

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