Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Falters in the Land of Lincoln ; an Expected Democratic Sweep in Illinois May Give the Party a Foothold in a Key Midwest State

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Falters in the Land of Lincoln ; an Expected Democratic Sweep in Illinois May Give the Party a Foothold in a Key Midwest State

Article excerpt

Illinois voters are poised to do something they haven't done for a quarter century: put a Democrat in the governor's mansion.

Democrats are also expected to win both houses of the state legislature and perhaps take all statewide offices.

The sweep, if it happens, could strike a devastating blow by Democrats in the Land of Lincoln - the state that helped launch the Republican Party to national prominence in 1860.

At the very least, this year's election promises to put Democrats in a position to deepen their political roots in the Midwest's linchpin state. The governorship, too, gives the party a key platform for assisting its 2004 presidential candidate in a bid for the White House.

Some analysts see a more ominous prospect for the GOP: that the party could be on the road to becoming a permanent underdog in a key battleground state.

"This may be a sign of new Democratic strength in the state," says John Pelissero, a political scientist at Loyola University in Chicago. "The only Republican with a chance to hold on to a position is the state treasurer."

This by no means portends easy victories for Democrats from now on. But in recent presidential elections the trend appears stark: Democratic candidates have won the state in the past three races, following a six-cycle winning streak by Republicans that began in 1968.

One reason, analysts say, is the state's shifting demographics. Chicago, home to roughly a quarter of the state's voters, has long been Democratic - indeed, Democrats have held the city's mayoral position since the days of Herbert Hoover's presidency. But Democrats have been moving into the suburbs in recent years, diluting traditional Republican strongholds. That's one reason why Democrat Rob Blagojevich holds a strong lead In this year's gubernatorial race, with surprising strength outside of his home base in Chicago.

But many observers feel that the predicted landslide is more a result of an uncivil war within the Republican party than a long- term shift.

The Republicans' difficulties began when Gov. George Ryan became so mired in a scandal called "bribes for driver's licenses" that he opted not to run for reelection. …

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