There's a simple lesson for Illinois Democrats from last Tuesday's election. If you want to get re-elected as a Democrat in Illinois all you have to do is govern like a liberal Democrat.
It's not complicated. Illinois is a Democratic state. A majority of voters are pro-union, pro-environment, pro-choice and progressive. The biggest employer is government, which does in fact create jobs. Lots of them.
Dick Durbin is a reliably liberal Senator from downstate. He's pro-union, pro-environment, voted against the Iraq war, supports Obama, and he's liberal on social issues. Illinois likes that. He won easy re-election in a tough year for Democrats.
Pat Quinn attacked the livelihood of public employees by pushing pension cuts. He shut down state facilities in small towns that depended on them. He supports fracking. His campaign complained about the Koch Brothers but his agenda as Governor was a slightly watered down version of Scott Walker.
That's why Pat Quinn lost to the wild card option, Bruce Rauner. Turnout was down in Chicago, the suburban collar counties made a big swing toward Rauner, and southern Illinois Democrats stayed home.
Quinn won 64.3% in Cook county, the same percentage he got in 2010. But with turnout down, he earned about 79,000 fewer votes out of Cook than last time. That's enough for a few Chicago-centric thinkers to claim, as they always do, that Cook county made the difference. But, even if Quinn had matched his 2010 turnout in Chicago, he still would have lost this election.
The suburban collar counties saw a large swing to the Republican. It partly came from Quinn losing a few percentage points. But Rauner gained more from voters who supported third party candidates in 2010.
For example, in DuPage county Quinn won 38.6 percent in 2010. He went down two points to 36.7% in 2014. The bigger swing came on the Republican side. DuPage gave Republican Bill Brady 54.3 percent in 2010. Rauner improved on that by six points to win 60.9 percent. Suburban voters who supported third party candidates in 2010 switched their vote to Rauner. That happened statewide but the swing was most dramatic in DuPage, Lake and other suburban counties where Brady wasn't well known.
Rauner finished about as well in central Illinois as Bill Brady did in 2010. They won the same 63 percent in McLean, Brady's home county. The fact that Rauner, despite being from Chicago, roughly matched the performance of a central Illinois hometown candidate is remarkable.
Democratic performance was down most dramatically in southern Illinois. It's no wonder. Quinn cut pensions and jobs for the largest employers: state agencies, schools, and public universities. His main jobs plan for the region was passing a fracking law that's unpopular with Democrats and independents. Those were the top two issues in the southern half of the state, despite the candidates' attempt to ignore both.
Downstate Illinois had to choose between a Democrat who seemed to be at war with the region and a Republican who may do worse. With no option on the ballot representing their views, it's no surprise many stayed home. The upset loss of a blue dog Democratic member of Congress, Bill Enyart, and a competitive state house race, were the added result.
Some press outlets created a drum-beat suggesting there was political benefit to cutting public employee pensions. But, believing you could attack pensions in a Democratic state where government and schools are the largest employers and still win re-election is idiotic, no matter how many times the Chicago Tribune editorial board tells you it's a good idea. If Bruce Rauner goes on his own round of attacks against public employee pensions then he'll lose re-election too after Democrats nominate someone voters can stomach.
If Pat Quinn had governed like the progressive he campaigned as for most of his career he would have won re-election. I can't blame voters for staying home. I blame a Democratic party that offered no meaningful alternative.
In 2010 Quinn proved you can lose most of downstate and still win a statewide election. In 2014 he proved you can't win with Chicago alone. Not with both the suburbs and downstate going against you in a landslide. And definitely not when you turn your back on labor and environmental voters in a Democratic state.