Illinois Democrats say they are confident they will ride a “Blue Wave” to victory Nov. 6th, and recent poll numbers have bolstered that confidence — Democrat JB Pritzker is currently leading Gov. Bruce Rauner by a full 20 points, and Pritzker’s money has bolstered races up and down the ballot.
But despite this good news for the state’s Democratic Party, there are still major questions that its members will have to grapple with after the ballots have been counted and the victory party balloons have deflated.
How does the party deal with Demographic shifts that keep turning rural areas more and more Republican? How do Democrats bridge the tensions between the emerging left wing of the party while not turning off more moderate voters? And how will Democrats in Illinois chip away at the public perception that it’s the party of corruption and old school Chicago Machine™ politics?
State Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Hyde Park Democrat, has been in the Illinois House since 2013, and this summer was tapped to become the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Illinois after a leadership shakeup involving House Speaker Mike Madigan’s top deputy, who was ousted after being accused of sexual harassment in June.
Mitchell told The Daily Line that the key to both growing the Democratic party and shedding any negative connotations is through effective recruitment of candidates.
“Making sure that we emphasize next cycle having more candidates of color, even more women insofar as we can,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s really important based on where the base of the Democratic Party is and based on who have been reliable Democratic voters for years. I think we did a really good job this cycle in recruiting candidates who can win their districts. I think in the future I want to make sure that the party is reflective of our demographics.”
- Identity crisis? — Democrats on a national level have had to grapple with their party identity after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, which came as a shock to the Democratic Party, and exposed fractures within the organization. Though the Democratic Party of Illinois is in no way the same organization as the Democratic National Committee, voters may not necessarily know the where one ends and the other begins. Does that identity crisis affect Illinois Democrats? Mitchell says no. “I think that the identity crisis of the Democratic Party is highly overstated,” Mitchell said. “Competition is good. Having progressives and centrists and rural Democrats all in the same tent, who for the most part agree on the issues but might disagree on how to get there makes us a stronger party.”
- JB’s money — Democrat JB Pritzker has poured an unprecedented amount of money both into his own race and to dozens of down-ballot races. Though Mitchell acknowledges the less-than-ideal optics of Illinois Democrats being heavily funded by a billionaire, he said it would be “political malpractice” to not also use money as speech, as the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United allowed. “Ultimately, until we get a Supreme Court that understands that the First Amendment is not just about making sure that rich people can do whatever they want, this is the new battlefield and Democrats have to be able to compete. I don’t like it either.”
- The Madigan question — Gov. Bruce Rauner will leave a lasting impact on Illinois politics for many reasons, but calling public awareness to longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan through television advertisement and constant name-checking has changed the conversation about the 13th Ward boss, and even caused some members of his own party to put distance between themselves and him. But Mitchell claimed Rauner and others who may blame the speaker for decades’ worth of Illinois’ ills are not standing on their own records. “You’ve got individuals who choose to scapegoat issues they have themselves on the Speaker because millions of dollars have been spent trying to make him the boogeyman of Illinois,” Mitchell said.