Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why Mitt Romney scares Cook County judicial candidates

This isn't about ideology; it's about the one thing uppermost in the minds of judicial candidates now in the few days that remain before the March 20 primary: Votes.

Mitt Romney has failed to sew up the Republican presidential nomination. The Republican primary in Illinois is therefore potentially meaningful. Relevant. Potentially dispositive. Pick a word or phrase; it all means this: Some people who'd otherwise have gladly taken a Democratic ballot to vote for a friend of a friend running for judge may be rethinking their plans.

The scoffers in the audience may dismiss this as an unreasonable fear: How many Republicans are left in Cook County? The Republicans did not field candidates for Circuit Court Clerk, or Recorder of Deeds, or even State's Attorney. Other than Judge James G. Riley, who's filed for the Supreme Court seat as a Republican, no one filed for any countywide judicial vacancy as a Republican. Except in the far northwest corner of the county (the 13th Subcircuit), where there is one contested race, voters taking a Republican ballot on March 20 will forfeit their right to elect judges.

There will be very few judicial contests in November. There will be the contest for the Supreme Court, two contests in the 4th Subcircuit, and one in the 12th. For all intents and purposes, the 2012 election of judges in Cook County ends on March 20.

But all of this may not matter to some because the Republican presidential nomination is not yet settled. And those who think that way will be lost to the Cook County judicial candidates who've been pleading for their votes. In a low turnout primary, every vote counts.

And there is empirical evidence to buttress judicial candidates' fears: According to Cook County Clerk David Orr, as of March 8, Republican early voting was up 77% over a comparable period in 2008. Meanwhile, according to the Clerk's office, 4,500 fewer early votes have been cast in the Democratic primary than in 2008.

Of course, in 2008, the Democratic presidential primary was particularly relevant to a great many Cook County voters.

It may not be readily admitted by any candidate, but many otherwise good Cook County Democrats will be secretly rooting for Mitt Romney in Mississippi and Alabama this coming week, hoping that Romney victories in the South will remove any hint of excitement from the Illinois Republican presidential primary.


Albert said...

The last two times there was any kind of a spike in Republican primary turnout in Cook County were 1980 and 1988. And there really isn't any evidence (eyeball evidence, at least) that Democratic turnout was impacted by it. Maybe it will happen this time, but it's not a given. The bigger issue for Democrats is the almost complete lack of any contests at the top of the ballot, above the judicial contests. What's going to motivate the Democrats to go to the polls in the first place?

What will matter to the judicial candidates isn't as much how many will turn out but WHO will turn out. If there's little voter interest and the only people who turn out are the hardcore Democratic vote-the-slate loyalists, obviously that will help the slated candidates. Same with the diligent voters who study newspaper and bar group information. Judicial candidates like Aurelia Pucinski (counting on a big name-recognition bump) and the candidates counting on gender/ethnicity name cues or ballot position, they need the more casual voters and will be hurt if turnout is poor. Maybe not by a lot, but they'll be hurt.

Jack Leyhane said...

Your comment provides some comfort for some of the concerned candidates. But I continue to wonder: Have there been any studies of regular primary voters to see whether a significant percentage of voters will cross party lines from primary to primary? I'd guess most people who regularly vote in primaries always vote in the same party primary -- but how much is most? 90%? 75%? 95%?

Albert said...

I'll see if I can dig anything up.