TRUMP INFLUENCE LOOMS LARGE IN ILLINOIS GOP PRIMARY
By the time Republican voters go the polls in the Illinois Primary on March 19, the GOP presidential nomination will likely have been decided. Some believe it’s over already.
“I do believe former President Trump will be our nominee and I will support our ticket,” said State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), who is on the primary ballot as a delegate pledged to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But that was before DeSantis withdrew from the race, leaving the field with two candidates, Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Former Cook County Board of Review member Dan Patlak is also on the ballot as a DeSantis delegate.
“People still have the opportunity to vote for me if they want to. And I believe I’d be un-obligated in terms of who I would vote for at the convention,” said Patlak. “I’d be a free agent, so to speak.”
If elected, Patlak said he had yet to decide whether he’d cast his convention vote for Trump or Haley.
Assuming Haley remains in the race, the pair will face off in a series of primary showdowns before Illinois voters get to voice their choice. The next major hurdle for Haley is in her home state of South Carolina where Republican voters know her well, and like her too, but she still must overcome Trump’s dominance.
“Haley definitely has to do well,” said Pat Brady, former Illinois Republican Party chair who supports Haley and campaigned for her in Iowa. “She’s pretty conservative. It’s good territory for Trump, too, but I think they’ve got three weeks to campaign, and hopefully, they’ll have some actual debates where she can take him on one-on-one. And so we’ll see what happens. In any of the more conservative states, it’s tough for anybody but Trump.”
Following South Carolina comes Super Tuesday on March 5 when 15 states hold primaries or caucuses (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia).
For the record, between Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada (Feb. 8) and South Carolina, a total of 142 delegates are elected. On Super Tuesday alone, 1,003 are elected. A total of 1,215 are needed to secure the nomination. So Super Tuesday is the Super Bowl for Trump and Haley.
“Every year that I can remember, the choice for the nomination has been decided before the Illinois Primary,” said Patlak.
Kenneth Jochum, Wheeling Township assessor who is running as a Trump delegate, said there is evidence of grassroots Republican enthusiasm in Illinois for Trump.
“We were able in every one of the 17 congressional districts to get multiples of the signatures for Trump to get on the ballot,” said Jochum. “And we did that without having to pay folks to gather signatures. It was an all-volunteer effort. So I think that speaks to a strong commitment.”
But Brady worries that if Trump heads the GOP ticket in Illinois, it will doom Republicans running statewide on the ballot.
“From my perspective, since Donald Trump has been on the stage since 2016, the Illinois Republican Party has gone from actually having some opportunities to almost being irrelevant,” said Brady. “Looking at it geographically, with Trump at the top of the ticket north of Effingham, it’s a drag. Since Trump’s been involved, we’ve lost DuPage County. We’re down to super minority status in both the Illinois House and Senate. We don’t have any constitutional officers. Darren Bailey got crushed for governor. He ran as a Trump candidate. So Trumpian policies and Trump himself has been disastrous for Illinois Republicans. This guy has no appeal for suburban women. None. Now people way down south don’t see that. But north of I-80 is where all the voters are and we’re getting crushed.”
Jochum admits, “There’s no question that Trump has a problem in Chicago’s suburbs” but he still sees hope. “If a Republican can win 20 per cent in the city, they can win the state. Kirk did that. Rauner did that. I believe Trump got 17 per cent. Now is there 3 per cent movement in the city because of immigration and other things? Hispanic Chicagoans are incredibly ticked off at what’s going on. So are many Black Chicagoans. Is that the 3 per cent to move it? I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting to see.”
Jochum also points to economic issues, with inflation and rising taxes punishing senior citizens. “We have a township food pantry and for years it served people with emergency need. A fire, somebody left the home, somebody died. Now 50 per cent of the pantry’s clients are senior citizens squeezed because of high taxes and the high cost of medication,” said Jochum.
Sen Rezin has seen no statewide polls for the Illinois Primary, but the internal polling for her district, which stretches west of Plainfield and Minooka to the LaSalle-Peru area, shows strong support for Trump.
“My district for the most part, has supported President Trump,” said Sen. Rezin. “I have on the eastern side of my district Oswego and Yorkville and that part of my district I would say does not support Trump but the majority of my district does and it’s always been that way.”
Sen. Rezin also points to immigration as a potent GOP issue.
“People are frustrated in what they’re seeing in our inability to secure the border,” said Sen. Rezin. “We have fentanyl coming in. We have human trafficking coming in. And we have a migrant issue. We need to put in place a migrant process that’s fair but also works. The current system doesn’t work and it takes too long.”
The voting results from Iowa and New Hampshire carry some warning signs for Trump in a general election. According to an AP Votecast survey, 15 per cent of Iowa’s Republican caucus goers said they wouldn’t vote for Trump in November. Among New Hampshire primary voters, it was 21 per cent. And Haley won 60 per cent of independents in New Hampshire.
In what’s expected to be a close general election, cracks like those in the Republican base are dangerous for Trump’s campaign and they will only grow if the former President is convicted in any of the four criminal trials he’s facing. What’s more, Trump’s demonstrated lack of popularity with independents could further hinder his attempt to return to power, as it did in his 2020 re-election bid.
Meantime, Brady believes only a new voice at the top of the ticket can begin to rescue Illinois Republicans from their downtrodden status.
“If we get somebody like Nikki Haley, she might bring back some of those disaffected suburban voters,” said Brady. “She’s still very conservative. She just doesn’t have the Trump chaos and baggage.”
Trump lost voters in independent-voting suburbs, could that translate into a boon for Haley?
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