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 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.”