‘Hards,’ ‘Softs’ are key in Democratic primary


For Democratic politicians in Chicago and Cook County, a "hard" voter is good to find. Conversely, a "soft" voter is much more problematic, and a "squishy soft" voter borders on the nightmarish.

Among professional politicians, a certain lexicon characterizes the voter pool. There are "hard D’s," "soft D’s" and "non D’s." The "hards" are either individual voters or households in which at least one voter has taken a Democratic ballot in three recent primaries. The "softs" are those who have voted in a Democratic primary at least once in the past 6 years. The "squishy softs" are registered voters who could vote in primaries but don’t.

Some "hards" vote because they’re civic-minded, but the preponderance vote because they have a self-interest, such keeping or getting a government job, or a personal interest, such as currying favor with the incumbents in order to extract some future favor or paying back some past favor, or a vested interest, such as some business portending economic gain. "Hards" tend to favor the status quo.

"Softs" are more ambiguous. They rouse themselves to vote if there is some particularly odious politicians who deserves defeat or some symbolism, such as electing a black or woman, or a transcendent issue. They vote only if they believe that their vote makes a difference.
The "squishy softs" couldn’t care less. They disdain politics, don’t register, and don’t vote.

In Cook County, and to a lesser extent in Chicago, the Democrats maintain their dominance and assure the status quo by controlling the nomination process. In Chicago, municipal and aldermanic elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, but countywide, for important offices such as Cook County Board president, sheriff, assessor and clerk of court, the victor in the Democratic primary is guaranteed election. It is the "hards" upon whom the Democratic machine focuses.

Since precinct captains are no longer plentiful, direct mail is their replacement. "Hards" are deluged with mail telling them whom to vote for or not to vote for. Since there are 5.2 million people in Cook County, with 2.5 million households, it is an egregious waste of money to mail to everybody. It also is a waste to mail to all registered voters, so mailers and robo-calls are directed to "likely" voters, who are either "hard" or "soft."

As can be discerned from the adjacent chart, the Democrats’ control in Chicago and Cook County is wholly illusory. They "control" because the majority of the voters don’t care who’s in control. Chicago, for example, has a population of 2.7 million, with 1,441,637 registered voters — 53 percent of the population — as of 2015. In the 2015 mayoral runoff, Rahm Emanuel got 332,171 votes (56.2 percent of the total cast), in a turnout of 590,733. That means that 850,904 registered Chicagoans didn’t vote and that Emanuel got 23 percent of the registered voter pool. Not very impressive, after spending more than $15 million.

As the chart indicates, the great "heavyweights" of the Democratic machine can barely deliver a quarter of the votes in their respective wards to the slated and anointed Democrats. Ed Burke (14th) delivered 16.3 percent of his ward’s registered voters to Emanuel, and county Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios (31st) delivered just 14.6 percent in his ward. Even Dick Mell (33rd) could manage only 18.9 percent for Emanuel. That’s a "machine"?

Some others did a mite better. Mike Madigan (13th) delivered 32.4 percent of his ward’s voters for the mayor, Brendan Reilly (42nd) 36.2 percent, Matt O’Shea (19th) 33.8 percent and Tom Tunney (44th) 33.1 percent, but every other supposedly cloutworthy committeeman or alderman was mired in the 20s.

With the March 15 primary less than a month away, Democratic strategists are terrified about two plausible developments. The first is an influx of Bernie Sanders’ "squishy softs" into the primary. They are millennials and disgruntled anti-status quo types who can now register to vote up to or even on election day. With early voting, much late-campaign direct mail is wasted. How the Sanders supporters will vote on down-ballot contests is not predictable.

The second is that a goodly number of "hard" Democrats may take a Republican ballot to vote for Donald Trump. That means fewer white voters backing the Democratic slate.

Here’s a look at several heated contests:

President: In 2008 Barack Obama was Illinois’ favorite son, and Illinois-born Hillary Clinton had absolutely no traction. Obama won with 8-1 majorities in the predominantly black Chicago wards and suburban townships, and he trounced Clinton 1,318,234-667,930 (with 64.7 percent of the vote) statewide, with a huge 429,052-vote bulge in Cook County. Turnout was 2,038,614, with 1,076,931 in Cook County.

Now everybody presumes it is "Hillary Time," with the statewide Democratic establishment coalescing behind her. However, as was proven in 2008, a sizable number of Democratic voters bucked the slate or refused to vote for a black candidate. The presumption is that 5 to 10 percent of the "hard" Democrats will vote in the Republican primary for Trump. Those are votes that Clinton would win over socialist Sanders, but if Sanders draws in more than 100,000 past non-voters, he could make Illinois no better than a 60-40 state for Clinton.

U.S. Senator: Polling has been spotty, but there is little doubt that U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-8) leads the field, which includes former Urban League chief executive officer Andrea Zopp and state Senator Napoleon Harris, both of whom are black. Duckworth will win Downstate and the suburbs heavily, and she will benefit from a Clinton-Duckworth gender vote. How will black voters break out?

According to sources, Zopp is being ignored by black committeemen in Cook County, and Harris, a former NFL player, is being ignored by everybody. Duckworth will get more than 40 percent of the "hard" black vote, about the same as Emanuel got in the 2015 runoff, but "squishy soft" voters, unfamiliar with the candidates, could keep Duckworth’s vote share under 60 percent.

Cook County State’s Attorney: It’s incumbent Anita Alvarez versus Kim Foxx versus Donna More. Alvarez was not slated last summer, and the Democrats recently decided to slate Foxx, who is black and Toni Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff. She will be on all party-generated sample ballots, which could prove helpful in white-majority wards.

Alvarez’ handling of the Laquan McDonald and David Koschman cases has put her renomination in serious doubt. Polling thus far puts her at about 31 to 33 percent, with name recognition around 80 percent. Those are horrific numbers for a two-term incumbent. Foxx is around 20 to 25 percent, with name identification under 50 percent; she has room to grow. More is in single digits, and nearly half the voters are undecided. If Sanders’ squishy-softs make it down the ballot, it is highly unlikely that they’ll opt for Alvarez.

Foxx will get the "hard" black vote and half the "hard" white vote. She likely will win with about 40 percent of the vote, to 35 percent for Alvarez.

Clerk of Circuit Court: Incumbent Dorothy Brown’s campaign can be summarized in five words: "Hey, I’m not indicted yet." Brown has served 15 undistinguished years as clerk, and the feds have been nosing around her office, but the only potential "wrongdoing" uncovered thus far is that an employee made a loan to Brown’s husband before he was hired. Hardly a smoking gun.

Brown’s black base is not deserting her, as some expected. She is opposed in the primary by black Alderman Michelle Harris (8th) and white lawyer Jacob Meister. "Harris is running no campaign whatsoever," a union operative said. "She’s relying entirely on the party and the FBI. It’s won’t be enough."

Brown’s name is familiar enough to get her a third of the vote, unless she is indicted before March 15. That’s why party bosses unslated Brown and slated Harris, who is the back-up. Meister is getting some traction in white areas. Harris may get the job at some point in the future, but Brown is going to be renominated.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.