Low Democratic turnout drives Dold’s comeback
by RUSS STEWART
Here’s a multiple choice question. Republican Bob Dold won his comeback bid in Illinois’ upscale North Shore/East Lake County 10th U.S. House District because: (a) He spent more money than incumbent Brad Schneider. (b) He neutralized Schneider’s appeal to Jewish voters. (c) He ran a brilliant, flawless relentless 2-year campaign to regain the seat he lost to Schneider in 2012. (c) He morphed into Mark Kirk. (e) He uttered the right platitudes in an anti-Obama year. (f) Democratic turnout collapsed.
The answers are (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f).
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Schneider raised and spent $4,266,151, considerably more than Dold’s $3,182,026, during the 2013-14 election cycle. Dold beat Schneider on Nov. 4 93,984-88,010, getting 51.6 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 5,974 votes in a turnout of 181,994.
In 2012 Schneider defeated first-termer Dold 133,890-130,564, getting 50.6 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 3,326 votes in a turnout of 264,454. That means that there were 82,460 fewer votes cast in 2014 than in 2012, and the bulk of them were Democratic votes. Barack Obama won the 10th District over Mitt Romney in 2012 by a solid 157,400-112,552 (with 58.3 percent of the vote), and Schneider eked out a win even though he ran 23,510 votes behind Obama. Schneider got 45,880 fewer votes in 2014 than he received in 2012, and an astounding 69,390 fewer votes than Obama received. In an affluent, educated, civic-minded district, with 540,000 registered voters in 419 precincts, the evaporation of 67,000 of the electorate is astounding.
According to the 2010 census, the district is 22 percent Hispanic and 7 percent black. "The minorities were MIA," said one Lake County Democratic activist, who is a precinct committeeman in Deerfield. "Schneider lost because too many Hispanics in Waukegan, Zion and North Chicago didn’t bother to vote."
That’s largely correct. Turnout in Lake County’s 309 precincts plunged from 204,884 in 2012 to 144,257, a falloff of 61,046 or 30 percent. Schneider, of Deerfield, won Lake County 103,495-101,389 in 2012, a margin of 2,106 votes, but he lost the county 69,821-74,436 in 2014, a margin of 4,615 votes. Schneider’s vote plummeted by 33,674, while Dold’s was down by 26,953.
Dold, of Kenilworth, won his Cook County base, containing 110 precincts, by a microscopic 21,556-21,315, in a turnout of 42,871, but then he also lost to Schneider by a microscopic 30,395-29,175 in 2012, in a turnout of 58,570. Turnout was down 15,699 from 2012 to 2014.
The 2011 remap, masterminded by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, was supposed to have transformed the 10th District into a safe Democratic bastion. When Republican Senator Mark Kirk was the district’s congressman from 2000 to 2010, it was evenly split between Cook County and Lake County. Kirk was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, and Dold won a tight contest (109,941-105,299) for the succession over Democrat Dan Seals, who had lost to Kirk in 2006 and 2008. In 2010 56 percent of the 10th District was in Cook County, containing Republican-leaning Inverness, Rolling Meadows, Wheeling, Palatine, Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Glenview, Democratic-leaning Northbrook, Glencoe, Winnetka and Wilmette, and Republican Northfield and Kenilworth. The remap chopped out all the western suburbs, added Niles in Cook County, and added northeast Lake County (Waukegan, etc.) plus marginal Vernon Hills, Mundelein and Libertyville from the old 8th District.
The Cook/Lake breakout in 2010 was 122,093/93,138. Dold won Cook County by 10,321 votes, while Seals won Lake County by 5,670 votes, and Dold won the election by 4,651 votes. In 2012, with Obama running up huge margins in Jewish enclaves like Deerfield, Buffalo Grove, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, the Cook/Lake breakout was 59,570/204,884, and in 2014, the breakout was 42,871/144,257. The district is now almost 75 percent in Lake County.
Democratic Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin predicted in 2012 that "no Republican can win that district." After the Nov. 4 election Suffredin conceded that Dold ran a "masterful" 2014 campaign.
How and why did Dold triumph?
First, he started early. Dold is the wealthy owner of a pest control business. He is not a lawyer. After losing in 2012, he didn’t become a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, as do so many defeated congressmen. He returned to the district, began making the rounds of Republican functions in early 2013, cleared out the 2014 field, and began raising money. In short, he had the luxury of making his comeback his full-time job.
Second, he needed to position himself to take advantage of a potential 2014 anti-Obama "perfect storm." During his brief tenure in the House, Dold was a loyal cog in Speaker John Boehner’s Republican majority, but he took "independent" positions on a few key issues. He supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, opposed oil drilling in Lake Michigan, supported funding for Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, and was a champion of Israel. Clearly, that was not enough. Why would Obama voters want half a loaf when they could get the whole loaf?
Dold had to rethink his message and find a way to "nationalize" the contest without making it a referendum on Obama, who remained popular in the district. He had to give pro-Obama voters a reason not to vote for Schneider or not to vote at all, while ensuring that they had no reason to vote against him. Tricky business. There was no margin for error.
Schneider, like Dold previously, was an obscure cog in Nancy Pelosi’s pro-Obama minority during 2013-14. Hard-edged criticism of Schneider would position Dold as either pro-Boehner or anti-Obama. Not good. So, when in doubt, resort to banalities and platitudes.
"Bob Dold will be bipartisan," blared his television ads, implying that he would work with Democrats (like Obama?) to solve the country’s problems. No specifics were forthcoming. What planet is Dold living on? The Republicans’ new House majority will be 247-188; in the present House, it is 234-201. Since Obama assumed the presidency, Republicans have gained 74 House seats, including 12 in 2014. Boehner need not (and will not) "work with" Pelosi, and Dold’s presence in Congress will be unnotable and mostly unnoticed.
However, Dold’s ploy worked. In the TV ad wars, which were fought in the pricey Chicago media market, the campaign was fudged beyond belief. Schneider, the incumbent, with no praiseworthy accomplishments, lambasted Dold as a Tea Party congressman, tying him to the Republicans’ supposed anti-reproductive rights, anti-gay marriage, pro-gun House majority, even though Dold was not in Washington. Dold responded with a bunch of euphemisms, crowing that he is for Roe v. Wade (meaning abortion rights), marriage equality (meaning gay marriage) and bipartisanship (whatever that means)." He had Kirk appear in his last-minute ads.
Third, while Dold reinvented and redefined himself, the uninspiring and uncharismatic Schneider simply dithered and vegetated. Why not bring in Obama for some fund-raisers and rallies? We’ll see. Why not make the Schneider-Dold race a referendum on Obama? We’ll see.
Why not spread the word that the Obama Administration has been a resounding success, not a colossal failure? We’ll see. The white residents of the 10th District are not suffering — they’re not being laid-off, and their stock market portfolios aren’t diminishing, so give Obama credit. We’ll see.
Fourth, Dold started raising money the day he left office. Schneider got a perch on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which gave him access to pro-Israel political action committees and groups, but Dold also had a hawkish pro-Israel record. Any Republican other than Dold would have begun from scratch. In the 8th District, Democrat Tammy Duckworth raised $2,486,031, to $313,038 for Republican Larry Kaifesh. Duckworth was re-elected 84,178-66,878 (with 55.7 percent of the vote). Schneider would have beaten any Republican candidate other than Dold.
Fifth, Bruce Rauner’s $75 million campaign for governor had an impact. Rauner won Lake County 116,277-79,939 (with 57.9 percent of the vote). In Northern Cook County, Rauner won Maine Township 20,187-15,458 while Dold lost his 30 precincts 3,477-4,338, Rauner won Wheeling Township 27,013-17,692 while Dold won his 30 precincts 6,047-5,353, Rauner won New Trier Township 15,705-9,307 while Dold lost his eight precincts 1,835-2,127, and Rauner won Northfield Township 19,629-12,286 while Dold won his 42 precincts 10,196-9,497. In 2012 there was no top-ballot Republican "energy," as they conceded Illinois. Rauner provided that energy in this election.
The 10th District now ranks as one of the country’s most competitive, least secure and most expensive districts. It also is the most pro-Obama district to have a Republican congressman. The $7.4 million spent in 2014 will be dwarfed by the $8.5 million spent in 2016.
The 2016 outlook: Schneider, the master ditherer, is dithering about whether to seek a 2016 rematch. The 2016 election will have a much higher turnout, but Kirk will be on the ballot for re-election, so the Kirk-Dold team will run well. A lot depends on whether Hillary Clinton runs.
The Democrats’ dream candidate would be a rich, self-funding Jewish woman from Lake Forest. Failing that, the next best is state Senator Dan Biss of Evanston, an energetic campaigner and a prolific fund-raiser who lives outside the district and who is waiting patiently for the seat of Jan Schakowsky (D-9). Unless Schneider announces in January, others will fill the void.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.