an overhead shot of the back of an orange and white cat's head as it appears that the cat tries to "read" the Chicago City Wire newspaper
Sir Theodore Beartholomew (aka Sir the Cat) tries to make sense of the Chicago City Wire Credit: Vivian Gonzalez

Poor Darren Bailey.

The Chicago City Wire, the so-called newspaper intended to scare people like me into voting for him, arrived on Election Day, a week after I’d already voted early for someone else.

Blame it on the U.S. Postal Service, Senator Bailey.

In fact, I was paging through the City Wire while the results came in, showing Governor Pritzker was mopping the floor with Bailey, winning reelection with 54 percent of the vote, roughly the same amount he got against Bruce Rauner in 2018.

Apparently, all that toxicity and hate in the City Wire and in the pro-Bailey commercials (all those dire stories about crime running wild in Chicago) didn’t really bring out the Republican vote.

In fact, it was just the opposite: a blue wave for Illinois’s Democrats. They won everything on the ballot from governor to attorney general to comptroller to treasurer to secretary of state to two all-important seats on the state supreme court.

Those judicial wins make it a five to two Democratic margin on the top bench, which will keep MAGA from undoing whatever legislation, most notably abortion rights, Pritzker and the Dems have passed or will pass for years to come.

In the aftermath, there are several takeaways. One is that the southern strategy is not as effective as it once was. It’s at least not as pivotal as concerns about abortion rights. I’ll get to that.

The other is that gerrymandering works. So three cheers to Speaker Chris Welch and his Democratic mapmakers for sticking it to Republicans the way Republicans generally stick it to Dems.

Yes, yes, I know … In a perfect world, there would be no partisan mapmaking. No, in a perfect world, legislative boundaries would be drawn by computers without regard for partisan advantage.

But the world’s far from perfect, my friends, as you have undoubtedly realized by now. So, please, Democratic voters (especially you squishy liberal types), do not fall prey to the pleas of “reformers” who want to go to independent mapmaking. Not until Republicans do the same in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, and so forth. Which will be never.

The point of gerrymandering is to use decennial census redistricting as an excuse to minimize your opponents’ power by packing the opposition into a handful of districts. Which is what Speaker Welch and his mapmakers so effectively did.

As evidence, allow me to offer the results from the recent congressional elections.

The state’s three Republican congresspeople coasted to reelection. Mike Bost, Mary Miller (of “Hitler was right” infamy), and Darin LaHood won with over or close to 70 percent of the vote.

In contrast, the Democratic congresspeople outside of Chicago—Nikki Budzinski, Sean Casten, Bill Foster, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Brad Schneider, Eric Sorensen, and Lauren Underwood—faced tense campaigns and won with narrower margins.

The key being . . . they won. The margin doesn’t really matter, as a miss is as good as a mile in a congressional race. That is, Casten doesn’t get less of a vote in Congress than Miller just because her margin of victory was greater.

As a result of Welch’s mapmaking, Illinois has one more Democrat in Congress than it had before the election, even though the state lost one overall legislative seat because of its declining population.

If by chance the Dems hold on to Congress—and they’re still counting votes in the western states—Speaker Pelosi should send Speaker Welch a bouquet of roses. Too bad New York’s Dems are too freaking clueless when it comes to mapmaking—another story for another time.

While we’re at it, Welch’s mapmakers did the same thing with the state supreme court map.  Drew it just right to maximize Democratic votes and keep MAGA from winning the judicial seats they needed to turn Illinois into a northern version of Texas on labor, abortion, environmental regulations, and other matters.

Now onto the Southern strategy . . .

It was devised in the 60s by President Nixon to take advantage of white grievances over civil rights laws which had angered southern, white Democrats into turning Republican, almost overnight. And the party of Lincoln became the party of Jim Crow.

Nixon figured out that if you scare working-class and middle-class white people with their worst fears of Black people, you can get them to vote for Republicans, even if it’s not in their best interests. And the Republicans will be free to pass tax breaks for the rich.

Bailey ran hard on his own version of the Southern strategy, calling Chicago a “hellhole” and predicting the state would be awash with crime if he didn’t save us from Pritzker before it’s too late.

Actually, that tagline came from the Chicago mayoral campaign of a Republican named Bernie Epton, who ran his own version of the Southern strategy against Harold Washington in 1983. But you get the point.

As far as I can tell, the brain behind Bailey’s strategy was Dan Proft, a hardball campaign tactician. Proft’s PAC was backed with millions of dollars in contributions from Richard Uihlein, an arch-conservative billionaire, to run commercials and distribute “newspapers” that favored Bailey.

Proft lives in Florida. So I guess we should call it the Florida strategy.

I remember interviewing Proft in 2006 when he was running Tony Peraica’s unsuccessful campaign against Todd Stroger for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

In those days, Proft was a principal with Urquhart Media, a consulting firm named for Francis Urquhart, the Conservative member of Parliament in the BBC version of House of Cards

Urquhart is so diabolically evil, he murders two of his rivals to get to the top. I urge Democrats to watch that show so they have no illusions about what they’re up against with Proft.

I can’t say for certain that the Southern strategy is dead. As long as there’s MAGA—and, don’t kid yourself, MAGA still exists—it will be employed.

Oh, brother, here I go, getting pessimistic. As Democrats tend to do. So let’s end the way we began, on a positive note . . . 

Against all odds, the red wave turned into a blue one. Well done, Illinois voters, well done!

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