Republicans gather in an Evanston backyard. (Fran Zirbel photo)

For decades, Labor Day has been the symbolic kickoff to the fall campaign season … a lightning-fast, two-month dash from the holiday to Election Day.

And, for about as long as anyone can remember, Evanston Democrats have sprinted out of the blocks and coasted to victory, at least locally, at the polls.

But this Labor Day season, despite serious political headwinds pushing against them, Evanston Republicans are hoping to cut into the expected Democratic margin.

Billing themselves as “The New Evanston Republican Organization,” the local party held a candidates night at an Evanston home on Aug. 31, where an estimated 75 to 100 GOP members met nine Republican statewide and local candidates.

Candidates on hand included Stephanie Trussell, running for lieutenant governor, and Kathy Salvi, running for U.S. senator. The GOP gubernatorial candidate, downstate State Sen. Darren Bailey, did not attend.

Evanston GOP Committeeman Sean Matlis with GOP U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Salvi at the backyard gathering.

“Evanston is essentially a one-party town,” concedes deputy GOP committeeman John Foley.

Democrat Joe Biden received 91% of the Evanston presidential vote in 2020. Democrat J.B. Pritzker took 84% in the 2018 gubernatorial race and is on the ballot again this year.

Foley is under no illusion that the GOP will come out on top in Evanston in 2022, or probably any time in the future.

But rather, the goal is to at least reduce the local Democratic margin of victory, while hoping to come out ahead in traditional GOP turf downstate.

“We’re focusing on education, the economy and crime,” Foley says, “because those issues impact everybody.”

When it comes to dollars and cents, inflation, and low GDP growth, Foley says “the guy who lives in the big mansion on Sheridan Road won’t feel it, but 98% of the workers do.”

But as difficult as it has been for Republicans to make inroads in deep blue Evanston before, something else might make it even tougher this year … the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

That decision has galvanized abortion rights activists nationwide, which apparently helped a Democrat win a special Congressional election in upstate New York last month.

Evanston, being a college town, already has a large base of liberal voters — academics and students.

Plus, Evanston also has large numbers of several loyal Democratic constituencies: Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and LGBTQIA+ voters.

While the Democratic Party of Evanston does not have an event on Labor Day itself, the party is holding its “Fighting for Democracy” awards event on Sept. 19 at Sketchbook in Skokie.

The event honors the following long-time office-holders and/or party activists: Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Curt’s Cafe Board Chair Rick Marsh, and party volunteer Sue Calder.

Duckworth is running for re-election this year. Suffredin is retiring.

The fundraiser, the Democrats say, “supports DPOE all year-round, but especially as we gear up to elect Democrats and defend our democracy this November.”

If the Republicans can make any Evanston inroads, that could be big news, and probably surprising considering the political makeup of the community.

“Is it going to magically change?”, Foley asks.

“No,” he answers. “I’m realisitic.”

But long term, Foley claims the GOP getting 25% of the Evanston vote is “absolutely” possible.

“But it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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15 Comments

  1. Good for the IL Republicans… part of the problem with Illinois is one party rule. We need more balance in Springfield! Duckworth is a disaster; she endorsed Lightfoot for a 2nd term as mayor.

  2. So the Evanston GOP Committeeman is the same guy who ran against Gabel as an Independent in 2020? That’s convenient. Was it awkward for his guests that he ran away from the party and still lost by 44pts?

  3. Unless the average citizen has some sort of fetish for spending more money on gas, food, and merchandise, increased crime, and the very real threat of war, or a terrorist attack either from Russia, China, or someone who waltzed across the southern border, I highly recommend they vote Republican in the upcoming midterm and Presidential elections. Crime has been an issue in Evanston. And crime has been an issue in Chicago ever since a Democrat has been in the Mayor’s office. Look it up.

    1. Huh? When was the last time there was a republican in the Mayors office? How does one even “look that up” given it is a non-partisan office. Even Steve Haggarty who was pretty conservative as far as Evanston mayors go was a Democrat.

  4. If the Republican party weren’t crazy evil at the national level and completely inept at the state and local levels, the people running our town and school board would be giving them recruiting fodder to spare. But they aren’t….m

  5. I’m all for having differing viewpoints and parties on our ballots, but the GOP has offered me nothing of value in my voting lifetime. A party that is anti-reproduction health, anti-LGTBQ, anti-science, and wants to force a curriculum of false history will never get my vote. Are Bailey and tRUMP the best candidates you can offer??? Umm, no thanks.

  6. There’s a great book on Chicago called “Make No Waves Back No Losers” that is my bible for how IL state politics work. There is a great section in the book on the complicity of the GOP in the single party rule here in Illinois, which goes something like “I won’t make too many waves in Northern Illinois, and you leave my fat checkbook alone. Deal?” — I think this still applies for the most part, despite the cries of super billionaires (like Griffin) leaving the State.

    Given the state of the national GOP right now, I’m not sure why anyone would even want to be photographed at such a soiree. Jeff – you find anyone running from the cameras there?

  7. Good for Evanston Republicans. Reading the comments regarding panhandling, safety is a real concern. 6 homicides last year on par with Cicero is not good sign. Inflation at 40 year highs, real wages shrinking and dismal D65 performance are certainly global issues. I think most of us agree third trimester abortions should be banned…

    1. Actually – third trimester abortions are almost ALWAYS for the health of the birth parent or cases when the fetus has no chance of surviving. These are almost always someone who wants to be a parent. I speak as someone who has almost lost a loved one that desperately wanted a child, but knew that there was almost no chance that both parent and child would both survive and had to make the hardest decision of her life.

  8. Thank you, John I agree that it is important for both parties to get recognized in our state. I believe many of the problems we have in our state, are due to a lack of competition. For some reason, voters seem to vote for the same political party every election and expect different results. It is important that we hold current leadership in Illinois accountable for their decisions. Crime, Taxes and Inflation are three important areas of concern. It is a breath of fresh air to see someone trying to bring awareness to fellow voters. What we have been doing, hasn’t worked.
    Finally, I would like to say to the author of this article that Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and LGBTQIA+ used to vote primarily Democratic, but this is changing due to the frustration they and others have experienced with the current state and national leadership of our state/country. People are not happy with the huge uptick in crime. Taxes and Inflation have taken a big chunk of of our paychecks!
    Time for a change, thank you John for conducting events like this, where open minded people can check out other choices when determining which candidates will best align with their own views. Very important to our state and country.

    1. I’d like to see where you are getting information about minority voters leaving the Democratic Party. From what I see among my friends is that after Roe was overturned that they are more determined than ever to vote against the Republican agenda.

  9. I can’t back a party who thinks it’s ok for an ex-president to run off with top secret info about our country, try to send false electors to steal an election whilst blaming others for trying to steal it, trying to seize voting machines, soliciting help from foreign enemies to help win an election, make racist comments about everyone who is non-white, allow a chutney to be ravaged by COVID 19, incite violence on Jan 6, while claiming he is for the police and watch an entire Republican Party pretend that non of this is happening. No. I don’t need to vote republican, the party of Satan.

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