March 09, 2016

Illinois to hold ‘big primaries for both parties’

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For the first time in several presidential election cycles, Illinois voters next week will help shape the landscape ahead of November’s general election. 

Illinois will be one of five states holding primaries on Tuesday, March 15. At stake in Illinois are 182 proportional delegates in the Democratic primary and 69 in the Republican contest. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump now lead their respective parties, neither has secured a nomination.  David Yepsen and John Jackson of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute said Illinois’ primary results will be a factor. 

Yepsen, institute director, and Jackson, a visiting professor at the institute, say that accumulating delegates and gaining momentum will be the key outcomes for the candidates. Jackson does not expect the Republican nominee to be decided even after Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio, noting that two candidates are their state’s favorite sons, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. 

The Democratic primary is also important, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an Illinois native, leading U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

“These are big primaries for both parties,” Jackson said. 

The relationship between candidates who get the most votes and receive the most delegates is close and Trump and Clinton “have been by far the best vote-getters,” Jackson said. 

“The nomination fight is about delegates and momentum,” Yepsen said. “Illinois is a big state; it’s also the president’s home state. Doing well here can give a campaign momentum and a psychological boost, which helps a campaign raise money. The most important thing is really delegates.” 

There is a big question for Illinois Republican primary voters now that the field recently narrowed from six to four candidates. In the institute’s Simon Poll on Feb. 22, Trump had 28 percent support of those surveyed, followed by Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired surgeon Ben Carson. Bush and Carson have suspended their campaigns since the poll’s release. 

“We know that two weeks ago 72 percent of Republican voters in Illinois wanted somebody besides Trump,” Yepsen said. “The question for Illinois is where are the non-Trump people going to go? Will they rally around one candidate in an effort to slow Trump down or will this be another state that Trump adds to his stack? He’s winning with pluralities and there are a lot of people in the Republican Party who have concerns about him.” 

Jackson said he and other political analysts could not foresee a year ago that Trump would last more than about two weeks in the campaign. 

“It’s astonishing that Donald Trump has done as well as he has and that the other Republican candidates have done as badly as they did, particularly the ones who seemed to be the most serious candidates,” Jackson said. “I thought the governors were by far the strongest in the field. There is only one (Kasich) still standing, and he is barely hanging on and desperately needs to win his home state next week.” 

Yepsen also didn’t believe Trump would last this long, adding his surprise at “the level of anger, fear and concern that Americans have.”  Voters are manifesting their angst by turning out in large numbers for Sanders and in record numbers for Trump over concern about trade “and the belief that it is hollowing out the middle class by exporting jobs.” 

America’s founding came about because people were upset with what a government was doing, Yepsen said. People are looking for change, which was part of the reason for President Obama’s first election in 2008, he said. 

“They are still looking and I think that they are angrier than they were in 2008,” he said. 

While it will not factor directly into the primary results, Illinois’ current fiscal mess contributes to the overall bad mood that people are in, Yepsen said, noting that 84 percent of people believe the state is heading in the wrong direction. 

“People in Illinois have all the same concerns that Americans do generally about terrorists and national security, the federal budget deficit and the collapse of the middle class … and, in addition, we’ve got a state that is a fiscal mess. People are in a very bad mood here and in an anxious mood. There is a lot of uncertainty among people who are scared about their jobs, their children’s future, crime and security.”