Demographic changes doom Dold’s re-election
by RUSS STEWART
Brad Schneider is a lump — bland, uncharismatic and unassertive – the kind of politician who, in a crowded room, gets less attention than the tropical plants.
Yet, due to enormous spending on network television and a huge Hillary Clinton-Tammy Duckworth vote in the North Shore 10th U.S. House District, Democrat Schneider toppled incumbent Republican Bob Dold by 13,916 votes in their third contest, the "rubber match" in November.
Dold won Mark Kirk’s Republican-leaning open seat in 2010 by 4,651 votes, lost to Schneider by 3,326 votes in 2012 after the district was remapped to be much more Democratic, beat Schneider by 4,856 votes in 2014 in a low-turnout, anti-Obama wave, but was finally overwhelmed by Democratic demographics in 2016.
Dold’s problem was being as much of a lump as Schneider, equally bland, and in the four hard-fought campaigns in which he spent a total of $16,964,900, he never built a personal following or sparked voter enthusiasm. To be sure, Dold postured and voted outside the Republican box on abortion, gun control, gay rights and repealing "Obamacare," noisily opposed the Iran nuclear deal, and in 2016 made the repudiation of Donald Trump the centerpiece of his campaign. He extolled himself as an "independent." Voters were unimpressed.
One district source said that Schneider won because voters asked themselves why they should re-elect a Republican who votes like a Democrat some of the time when they can elect a Democrat who votes like a Democrat all of the time.
The 10th District seat is now "in lockdown," the source said. "Dold has no credibility to run again, Republicans will not spend $3 million to beat Schneider, and the new president figures to be unpopular in the district," he said. Schneider will be around for a while.
One of the remarkable phenomena of 2016 was the Republicans’ maintenance of their congressional majorities, which many pundits predicted would be severely diminished in a Clinton tide. Voter volatility at the presidential level, however, did not trickle down to state and congressional contests, where change was sparse.
The Republicans lost two U.S. Senate seats, retaining a 52-48 majority, with two incumbents defeated. They lost a net of six U.S. House seats, retaining a 241-194 majority, with a paltry six incumbents, including Dold, defeated. A stunning 215 Republican incumbents were re-elected, or 97.3 percent.
The Democrats did better. No senator was defeated, and only one congressman lost. Of 168 U.S. House incumbents seeking re-election, 167 won, or 99.4 percent.
Any congressional incumbent has distinct advantages. First, constituent service, with a paid staff in the district and in Washington assisting with federal problems. Every office now has staffers who just answer e-mails, within minutes. Voters now expect their congressman to be on the job 24/7. Second, personal campaigning, with the incumbent back in the district every weekend and during the recess. Over the years, it pays off. Those thousands of contacts produce votes. Third, fund raising. An incumbent with a choice committee assignment draws substantial money from lobbyists and special interests; a challenger raises much less. Having hundreds of thousands of dollars discourages competition, and if competition surfaces, those who have already given will give more to protect their "investment."
In the 2016 election cycle, Dold spent $5,618,279, and Schneider spent $4,928,207. Add to that the expenditures of the respective party campaign committees, which bought about $3 million each for television and other media ads, and the Dold-Schneider contest cost around $13 million.
There are mitigating circumstances which doom even the most astute incumbent. First, there are scandals, which means doing something stupid, and "loose lips," which means saying something stupid or offensive on the record. Second, there are demographic changes. The incumbent’s base may be eroding because the opposition party’s base is expanding. In the 10th District, the black and Hispanic population in the Waukegan-North Chicago area is growing, now numbering 7 percent and 22 percent, respectively. So are the number of liberal Jewish voters in and around Deerfield and Buffalo Grove. Lake County is rapidly trending Democratic, and the longtime county Republican machine is teetering.
Third, a legislative remap, as occurred in Illinois in 2011, can stack the demographics against an incumbent, making the seat unwinnable. Before 2012 the 10th District was split about 50/50 between eastern Lake County and the northern tier of Cook County townships, which include upscale New Trier and Northfield plus Palatine, Maine and Wheeling and part of Niles Township. Mike Madigan’s remap sliced out Republican voters around Palatine, Arlington Heights and Wheeling and added minorities. The new district had 309 precincts in Lake County and 110 precincts in Cook County. As expected, Dold lost.
Fourth, there are a "waves." A 5 to 10 percent off-year voter swing against the president’s party, as occurred in 1994, 2006, 2010 and 2014, can be politically fatal to a congressman. Likewise, a landslide for one party’s presidential candidate can sweep out an incumbent, as occurred in 2012 when Obama won the 10th District 157,400-112,552, a margin of 44,848 votes. Schneider topped Dold 133,890-130,564, a margin of 3,326 votes. Obama won the district with 63 percent of the vote in 2008 and with 59 percent in 2012, but Clinton swamped Trump with more than 61 percent of the vote. That was too much for Dold to overcome.
In 2004 and 2008, Kirk ran 10 to 12 percent ahead of the Republican presidential candidate and won. Independent voters split for Kerry/Kirk and Obama/Kirk. No longer. The 10th District, like almost all the 434 other districts, has become partisan and polarized, voting for the same party’s presidential and congressional candidate. Dold lost with 47.5 percent of the vote in 2016, running about 8 percent ahead of Trump, but the anti-Trump undertow sank him. Trump lost Lake County and lost the 10th District Cook County townships.
Going into 2016 there were about 25 congressional districts where in 2012 either the Republican and Obama won or Mitt Romney and the Democrat won. The voters’ 2016 propensity was to vote for the same party for federal office, but of the Republicans who won Democratic seats in 2014, only two lost. Overall, there were six losers. One in New Hampshire lost because of campaign disclosure violations, one in New Jersey lost because of anti-gay remarks, two in Florida lost because of court-mandated redistricting, and Dold and Crescent Hardy of Nevada lost because of demographics. An Omaha Democrat in a 60 percent Trump district lost.
Nevertheless, a slew of other supposedly vulnerable Republicans in Maine, Iowa, Colorado, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, all of whom were deemed losers in a putative Clinton landslide, won easily. Trump got 45 to 50 percent of the vote in their districts. The only state where Trump was a poisonous negative was California, which he lost by 2.5 million votes and almost cost three Republicans their House seats.
The House Republicans have hit a ceiling, winning virtually every district that could be won by a Republican, and their total cannot rise to much more than 245. Every district won by Trump elected a Republican. The Democrats have hit a floor, and they cannot sink much below 190. To gain a majority, the Democrats need to flip about 25 Republican seats. The key to Republican dominance is the South, where they have a 112-40 edge (with 25 Texans), with Southern Republicans comprising 47 percent of the 241-member Republican caucus. Southern revulsion toward Obama, both politically and culturally, has driven everyone but minorities and white liberals out of the Democratic Party.
In the Midwest, the Republicans have a 61-33 edge, with 12-4 and 9-5 majorities in Ohio and Michigan, respectively. In Illinois, with Dold’s demise, Democrats have an 11-7 edge. In the East, the Democrats have a 58-29 edge, attributable to 9-0, 18-9, 7-1 and 5-0 delegation majorities in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland and Connecticut, respectively. Still, Pennsylvania is 13-5 Republican.
In the West, the Democrats have a 63-39 edge, but 39 of those Democrats, almost 62 percent, are from California, a Republican wasteland, with another 12 from Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Californians make up 20 percent of the Democratic House caucus, and they keep Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco in the minority leader’s post. Those alignments will not change any time soon.
Nor will the 10th District. The 2016 campaign was all about isolation, polarization and misconception. Precinct work and mailings played no part, television played the whole part, and the targeted demographic were pro-Clinton voters. Conceding a 60-40 Clinton win in the district, Schneider needed 85 percent of the Clinton vote, and Dold needed 20 percent of the Clinton vote and 100 percent of the Trump vote — a task made difficult by his Trump-bashing TV ads.
Schneider’s media repetitiously blasted "Dold and the Republicans" for allegedly opposing Lake Michigan environmental protections, seeking to rescind abortion rights and curtail gay rights, and cutting Medicare and social security. That was totally disingenuous, as Dold neither voted for nor advocated any such thing, but some Republican might have. The tag line was "vote for Schneider and the Democrats." Dold’s "independence" theme fell flat, as did assertions that Schneider would be a "Pelosi puppet." Voters now want to know how their congressman will vote, not trust in how he might vote.
In a district which includes Kenilworth, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Lake Forest and Highland Park, there may be some Republican millionaire who covets Schneider’s seat. Good luck. Schneider is around for a while.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.