A group of Illinois’ top Democrats Thursday pitched to have the state become one of the first five in the nation to hold the party 2024 presidential primary elections.
The elected officials stressed to a Democratic National Committee panel that Illinois’ racial, ethnic and geographic diversity, as well as strong support for unions and progressive causes, makes it an attractive state for an early primary.
But they also had to defend Illinois’ reliably Democratic vote for president against a desire by national Democrats to showcase a competitive battleground state. They also were put on the defensive by party leaders concerned about Chicago’s costly media market and that constant battles between the Chicago Teachers Union and City Hall might become side issues party presidential candidates would be forced to address.
Illinois is one of 16 states, as well as Puerto Rico, seeking the early-state, pre-Super Tuesday status as Democrats redo their presidential calendar. Initial primary states would benefit from media exposure as well as campaign and media spending.
Iowa, the home of the traditional first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, appears likely to lose its leadoff position due to Democrats’ desires to favor primary elections over caucuses. Other early states – New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – are expected to keep their early positions, leaving a Midwest state a priority with DNC officials looking for regional balance.
Michigan and Minnesota are also regional contenders but, unlike Illinois, are considered to be truer presidential battleground states. In addition, Democratic voters are more widely dispersed throughout Michigan compared to Minnesota and Illinois.
But Illinois currently holds Democratic supermajorities in the General Assembly, while Michigan and Minnesota would need approval from its GOP-controlled legislatures to move the primary date.
Illinois’ senior US senator, Dick Durbin, told the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, that the state’s geographic makeup offers a true substantive test for presidential contenders.
“Are you good at urban politics? We’ll find out in Chicago. How are you doing in suburban areas where women are making the big difference? We’ll prove that point for you in Illinois as well. How about the middle ground? There is not much of it, but there’s some of it. We’ve got plenty of it in Illinois. And, when it comes to conservative and rural small town America, we’ve got plenty to offer, ”Durbin said.
“At the end of the Illinois primary, you’ll know the winners and the losers, but you’ll also be able to separate out sections of the state and impact these candidates and their messages have in those areas,” he said. “That’s as good as you can get in the earliest primaries.”
US Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson, the state Democratic Party chair, noted the state’s Democratic voters are not an establishment monolith, citing Hillary Clinton’s narrow 2 percent point win over US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Illinois’ 2016 presidential primary.
And Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the first Latina elected to statewide office, said Illinois has twice the minority population of Michigan and “blows every other state out of the water on our diversity.”
“We’re an almost exact mirror image of the nation as a whole, an exact match on race and an incredibly close match on every other measured category,” she said, referring to education, age, income and religion. “We look like America. We talk like America. Southern Illinois is the south. ”
Jake Lewis, the state party deputy director, said Chicago’s media market was not cost prohibitive compared to other major cities, but that it would present candidates with a challenge that they should be forced to meet.
“We need to put Democratic candidates to the test early and so let’s test them out in a state like Illinois. Let’s make sure that they can raise the resources, they can deploy the resources, they can build the coalitions to win, ”he said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the party Rules and Bylaws Committee, told the Illinois delegation that “Chicago is a very interesting place” where there are “local issues that then get played out in the national campaign. ”
She cited labor disputes between the CTU and Chicago mayors, adding that, “I would have hoped that it was simply restricted to Rahm (Emanuel) and the CTU but it seems to be a continuing oration in Chicago” under Lori Lightfoot.
“How do you ensure that this is about the presidential election as opposed to all these other issues,” Weingarten asked.
Lewis did not directly address the question. Instead, he called the state “absolutely union proud” and said backing for the early primary date, as well as for a bid to get the party 2024 presidential nominating convention for Chicago, were backed by the state AFL-CIO and the Chicago Federation of Labor.
“Illinois is not a state where unions are on the defensive trying to stop Republican encroachment or join the race to the bottom. We are proud. We are aggressive, ”he said. “Nobody knows better than you in this room the power unions have in Illinois and Chicago and we feel like Chicago is the capital of the Midwest and that what happens in Chicago, what happens in Illinois, radiates out to other states in the Midwest.”
In addition to Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, other states making pitches to the DNC panel are Iowa, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.
The Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to make its recommendations for early-voting states in late July or early August with a full vote by the DNC expected in late summer or early fall.
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