By Jamey Dunn
When legislators faced off in this week’s primary election, the candidates with the most cash generally prevailed.
The new legislative map, drawn by Democrats, resulted in several Republican lawmakers running against each other last Tuesday.
In some cases, incumbent Republicans were drawn into the same district. Others challenged members of their party when they found themselves in a new and unfriendly district.
For the most part, those who raised more campaign funds will have a shot at keeping their jobs.
According to information compiled by the Campaign for Political Reform, Sen. Carol Pankau, a Republican from Itasca who won her primary in the 23rd Senate District, raised $227,249. Her opponent Rep. Randy Ramey, a Republican from Carol Stream, raised $183,765. In the 25th Senate District, Hinsdale Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard raised $441,457 and defeated Rep. Chris Nybo, an Elmhurst Republican who raised $123,8555. Sen. Sam McCann, a Carlinville Republican and winner in the Senate District 50 primary, brought in $200,136. His opponent, Gray Noll, raised $42,255. Rep. Jason Barickman from Champaign beat out Sen. Shane Cultra from Onarga in the 53rd Senate District. Barickman raised $184,562, while Cultra had $149,203.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar said that the results of the primary demonstrated that Illinois Republicans are “pragmatic.” He said, “They would rather win than worry about ideology.” Edgar said that he thinks the party has become more conservative than when he served in office but has by no means swung severely to the right. “I think a lot of the incumbents who might be viewed more middle of the road in the party, they did pretty well.” Edgar said he thinks those who won and face a challenger in the general election will have a good shot at winning.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Mike Jacobs raised $519,120 and faced Mike Boland — a former House member who lost his bid for lieutenant governor in 2010 — who brought in $18, 970. Jacobs was the winner in the Senate 36th District Democratic primary.
One incumbent lost to a challenger who has not served in the General Assembly but outpaced him on contributions. Rep. Kent Gaffney from Lake Barrington was defeated in the House 52nd District Republican primary by David McSweeny, an investment banker with a background in politics. Gaffney raised $213,041, and McSweeny raised $285,846. “You see a handful of races like that where you’ve got money going up against organization,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Morrison said the money totals only show what candidates brought in, not what they spent. He said smaller donations that have yet to be reported are not reflected . He added that some candidates spend more than they have or lend money to their campaigns and then try to raise more later to pay off the debt. “We have seen candidates before go into debt and then raise money after.” Still, he said, “this is the best measure we have of the resources that they have available.”
Morrison said the fundraising totals present a chicken-or-egg type of question: Did candidates win because they have more money, or do they have more money because they were favored to win?
“A lot of the money that comes in on both sides, it’s from lobbyists, it’s from people who are political professionals,” he said. “Many groups who give to politicians don’t like to give to politicians who might lose. Part of the point of giving is to build a relationships with someone who is in office.”
In the 106th House District, which had no incumbent candidate, money seemed to play less of a factor. Tom Bennett was the biggest fundraiser in the Republican primary with $73,598. Winner John Harms raised $17,924. Morrison said the large field in the race might have played a role. “In theory, you can win with 21 percent of the vote in those kinds of races.”
While Sue Scherer, who is backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, outraised her competitors with $151, 288, she only won her race in the 96th House District by 70 votes. Media outlets have declared Scherer the winner, but with the caveat that the results could change when absentee ballots come in during the next two weeks. Winston Taylor, who is Scherer’s closest challenger, raised only $18,034. The other candidate, Springfield Ald. Sam Cahnman, raised $35,893. Morrison said that geography could have played a role in that race. The House's 96th District stretches across Springfield and Decatur. Taylor is from Decatur but currently lives in Springfield, so it would follow that he might have a base of support in both cities. Also, the fight between the other two candidates — which involved some very negative advertising — may have lead voters to seek out an alternative in Taylor.
Morrison emphasized that many factors besides money go into the results of elections. He said money is focused on in part because it is “easy to measure the money” but not as easy to measure other components, such as volunteers and organization. “It’s ultimately the votes that determine elections,” he said, and that can come down to “the message that [candidates] have and just the candidates themselves.”