Once again last week there was no suspense about the outcome of local races in Evanston during a national election.

Evanston, once a Republican town, again solidified its position in the Democratic column, a switch the beginnings of which can be traced to 1964 when Lyndon Johnson became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the city.

Regardless of one’s political views, the predictable outcome makes for a very dull election night locally. So we thought we’d open up a discussion of what sort of Republican candidate might be able to win in Evanston — or at least be competitive in a district that included Evanston.

But first a closer look at what happened last Tuesday.

As you can see from the chart, Democrats carried Evanston with more than 80 percent of the vote. President Obama did best with 86.5 percent, less than one percentage point off from his performance in 2008.

He was followed in descending order by State Sen. Daniel Biss at 85.6 percent, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky at 84.9 percent, State Rep. Robyn Gabel at 84.1 percent and State Rep. Laura Fine at 80.1 percent.

Among the three candidates heading to Springfield, Gabel failed to carry the two other townships that form part of her district — getting 44 percent of the vote in New Trier Township precincts and 42.7 percent of the vote in her Northfield Township precincts.

Fine carried her New Trier, Niles and Northfield township precincts, though by much tighter margins than in Evanston.

Biss did the best of any of the Democrats in Niles Township, but trailed Fine in New Trier and Niles.

So, what do you think it would take for a Republican to be competitive here? Rejecting conserviative Republican views on social issues? Embracing more centerist economic policies? Sounding more concilliatory about working with Democrats?

Something else? Or none of the above?

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Republican odds

    It becomes a very complicated question at the federal level, as to what sort of Republican could be elected from Evanston. At the State level however it would require a seismic shift in attitude; the kind of shift  for example, that might follow a total state wide financial collapse (pension issues have this potential) and perhaps then awaken  citizens to what  exactly   Michael Madigan and his legion of captive legislators have wrought upon the State of  Illinois. Stuart Opdycke 1327 Hinman

  2. Evanston Republicans – then and now

    In 1960, when I moved to Evanston, my parents, who were Democrats, were apprehensive because the place was a Republican stronghold. Now, as you describe, the place has flipped.

    To ask what kind of Republican could win an election in Evanston involves other questions. How has the Republican Party of 1960 changed and what happened to the Republicans of 1960 who lived here – in particular, how do their children vote today and where do they live?

    The traditional political tactic to gain favor is to move toward the party that proves in the vote that it has favor.

    In the 1960's the GOP was the party of business, and there were plenty of businesses in Evanston that have since moved away to greenfield sites – taking the executives and their families along with them. The Republicans of the 1960's were also acceptable to African-Americans, it still had a lingering reputation as the party of Lincoln. Believe it or not, the Kennedy administration was afraid the Republicans in Congress would move on Civil Rights before the hide-bound Democrats of the South would do so.

    Nationally today, the GOP has the image of intolerance (immigration, gay marriage, women, scientific research is a conspiracy) that is a non-starter in Evanston. For a Republican to succeed here, he or she would have to come out strongly in opposition to the national party with the exception of opposition to taxes. It would make far more sense to enter a contest in the Democratic primary.

    1. There is room in Evanston for Republicans if they want it


      I think you just showed how some voters can stereotype candidates simply because they are members of a particular political party.

      Most blacks do not favor immigration reform or gay marriage. As we know, about 95 percent of blacks vote Democrat. 

      Women? The majority of married women voted for Romney. Single women veered toward Obama. The war on women tactic was ridiculous, false but it worked as we see with Clif. There are Republicans who are pro-choice and Democrats who are pro-life but most voters I hope are not one -issue voters. I have no idea how anyone could say Republicans oppose scientific research.

      Some say Evanston shifted when Barry Goldwater was the presidential nominee. I agree in part with that assessment.  Goldwater was a victim of the Kennedy assasination because his political opponents linked his limited government rhetoric to a climate of hate that led to Kennedy's death. The New York Times ran an article that said 1,000 psychiatrists diagnosed him as not fit to be president. Then the most famous ad in political history doomed Goldwater's candidacy – the one where the little blonde girl is picking daisies and a voice counts down to 10 and then the nuclear explosion.

      But Johnson's Great Society also played a role in Evanston's political reversal.  Some of the things people liked was Medicare, Medicaid, the expansion of the food stamp program and federal aid to the poor that in 8 years went to $30 billion from $9 billion. He also helped enact the War on Poverty, community redevelopment programs, affirmative action, housing grants and the Economic Opportunity Act.  Under Johnson's term, government grew exponentially and  there was nothing like it except FDR's New Deal.The Great Society promised to give ALL people a fair chance. 

      Johnson's Great Society and FDR's New Deal are a microcosm of what's happening in Evanston. Evanston is filled with non-profit programs and numerous city, state and federal government programs for the poor.  It's easier to win elections if you want government to provide housing, food, shelter, education programs, Obamaphones and other kinds of government subsidies. It's hard to win an election when you want to curb spending and taxes that pay for all of these government programs.

      If you oppose to any degree government intervention to provide healthcare, welfare programs and a vast sea of subsidies it's easy to be labeled hateful. How can you be seen as compassionate when you want to cut spending that would take existing programs away from the poor? That is what's happening in Evanston.

      Some argue Johnson's Great Society destroyed families, especially in the black communities because it created a new entitlement society that allowed people to behave in ways to get more government handouts. I have seen first hand generations of families that play the system to get government handouts that have become a permament benefit.

      The Republican brand is tarnished. If you run under the Republican flag you already have a scarlet letter in a community where the majority instinctly and without batting an eye vote for the established Democratic candidate.  On the other hand, demographics are changing a bit in Evanston and there are more independent voters.

       I think a non-Democrat candidate can win in Evanston by running on a fiscally conservative platform that doesn't  involve divisive social issues. There are chinks in the armour in the Democratic party locally. A non-established candidate could break through with a smart effective campaign.

      As for Republicans, they took a step backward when they closed the highly visible office on Davis Street. There is room for the Republican party to take root in Evanston and be competitive but party leaders have to make an effort.  Again, how do you run a campaign on less government without sounding like you're going to take government programs away from the poor?

      I know. Evanston Democrats have been shoveling millions of dollars to businesses in the form of loans, grants and other subsidies. Corporate welfare doesn't sit well with most people.

      One of many chinks in the Democratic armor. 

      1. On “corporate welfare” and Northwestern, a relevant point

        The piece Bill just posted about the vote tonight on giving NU an essentially free long-term lease on city-owned lakefront property provides the perfect opportunity for someone to make a case in coming aldermanic contests that city elected officials should be acting in a more fiscally responsible manner.

        What is the square foot value of prime lakefront real estate? How does the city justify a dollar-a-year lease to NU (current endowment: $3-4 billion)? Never mind the question of whether the city should be ceding public lakefront that was preserved in trust in perpetuity.

        I think if the council goes ahead with this deal, it would provide a real opportunity for candidates with fically conservative messages to make a case that those on the council who vote in favor of the NU proposal (as well as the huge city subsidy to Trader Joe's) are not working in the best interests of Evanston taxpayers.

        What I don't understand is why the mayor hasn't pressed NU and Schapiro to make an annual in-kind oayment to Evanston in lieu of taxes as Princeton, Brown, Duke, MIT, Harvard and Yale have done to their communities. With all of the bonhomie exhibited by the mayor and Schapiro, one would think she could impress upon him the value of making an annual contribution to city coffers, given the amount of land NU has gobbled up and removed from the tax rolls. This lack of pressure on NU to contribute to the city beyond the symbolic ("Look! We bought the city a fire truck!") is particularly galling given the fact that the council appears ready to give away prime lakefront real estate to an institution that could buy and sell the entire city.

        1. Correction: NU endowment is $7 billion, not $3-4 billion

          Just looked it up. The 2011 number was $7,182,745.

          And those in favor of this on the council want to have us believe that we're getting a good deal on the lakefront property we're ceding because NU will cover landscaping costs?


        2. How much land NU gave to the city

          "impress upon him the value of making an annual contribution to city coffers, given the amount of land NU has gobbled up and removed from the tax rolls."


          Again check on the land originally given to NU and thus how much they gave back to the city.

          On north west end they originally had the land to Central and Asbury.  I don't recall the land to the south.

      2. Nice work, Al

        Nice work, Anonymous Al. You're spot on.

        The irony with this election having been won by a few percentage points in the popular election by Obama is that the constituencies that brought him over the top (Hispanics, African Americans, single white women) will not see unemployment decrease, they won't see wages rise, they won't see their standards of living improve but they'll likely see their government dependence stay static until we see the percent of government spending reach 75 to 80% to cover interest on our national debt, interest rates and inflation rates rise and we teeter on backruptcy.

        We may all then sit back and wonder if we have made the right choice this election.

      3. a necessary foundation for debate

        Anonymous Al: I'd be happy to address your response to my comment, but not unless you identify yourself. If you don't, we are not speaking on an equal footing.

        You address me as Clif, who I am. I must address you as a cypher because you won't permit me or other readers to know who you are. Imagine a debate where one party is wearing a disguise and is free to leave the room and reappear with the same, or a different disguise, while the other party to the debate is identified and constantly in view. Is the person behind the disguise the same, or has someone else taken his/her place?

        You are behind a curtain you will not drop. The cryptonym "Anonymous Al" has a voluminous output here, at absolutely no cost in responsibility and complete deniability of anything said, because…who really said it? Should we all do the same? When candidates speak to the public they are never anonymous, nor are those who question them. Democracy depends on responsibility and accountability. Why not here? When anonymous2 posts that he/she likes what anonymous 1 said, is it the same person posting twice to elevate his/her opinion? It is a hall of mirrors that encourages holding forth simply to hold forth.

        I've posted here less and less because of this; it being hard to find a real person to engage, someone to stand up for their ideas as a known citizen expecting and willing to show respect. So, that's why I must refrain from addressing your, or any other, anonymous posting.


        1. Cop out

          Ahh Cliff – such a cop out reply. 

          Targeting AA becuase you do not know his last name and citing inequity in the ability to debate this topic because of such?

          Perhaps you do not have answers or a formidble reply to AA, that is the real reason for the reply? Cop Out.

          Why do you want his last name anyway?  To me, that is suspicious and worrisome. 

          It reminds me of someone we all know who also refuses to answer real questions and blames others or creates diversionary tactics.   

          Carry On AA! 

  3. How to bring competitive elections to Evanston.

    Bottom line: We need to use some winner-doesn't-take-all American forms of Proportional Representation, not unlike the fairvoting advocated by FairVote.  http://www.fairvote.org/fair-voting-solution#.UKBBpodTz8c
    Or we could bring back 3-seat state assembly elections, not unlike what existed in IL from 1870-1980…

    Then, the votes of GOP Evanston residents would have a greater chance to matter and the GOP in IL would be in better shape!


  4. Live and let live philosophy

    Social liberal, fiscal conservative.

    Someone who says:

    Marry who you want, have control over your own pregnant body, take birth control if you want, smoke marijuana if you want(legally)- but don't force anyone else to pay taxes to support these things, because not everyone believes what you believe.

    Someone who will:

    Live within a budget- heck, make a budget!  Stop making promises that are impossible to keep with pensions.  STop subsidizing corn.  Get more people off welfare, as one in six on food stamps is unacceptable.   Stop bailing out failing banks.  Stop quantitative easing.

    and someone will who will remind Americans that they should stop asking what the government can do for them, and start asking what can they do for the country.   Americans need to get off the hand-outs from wealthy people's pockets, live smaller, stop maxing our credit cards on big stuff they don't need, and get back to work.   

    Currently I don't seem many Evanstonians sharing this philosophy, quite the opposite in many ways (the socially conservative against Tilted Kilt anyone?!)  Thus we vote back in big government Shakowsky for yet another term- Jan is such an ironic leader- She wants the rich to pay more taxes, yet her own husband is a convicted felon for tax evasion.  Raise those taxes Jan, as long as your family doesn't have to pay them. LOL.

    VIva the people's republic of Evanston!

  5. It could happen

    if an extemeist left-winged Republican ran but, even then,  he/she would be running against someone to the left of them. Lets face it, Evanston Democrats are way left of their own party and are intolerant of people that don't think like them.

    1. What sort of Republican could win in Evanston?

      What sort of Republican could win in Evanston?    In my opinion, someone who might say the following:

      Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society
      Milwaukee, Wisconsin
      September 30, 1859

      "…no other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture. I know of nothing so pleasant to the mind, as the discovery of anything which is at once new and valuable — nothing which so lightens and sweetens toil, as the hopeful pursuit of such discovery. And how vast, and how varied a field is agriculture, for such discovery. The mind, already trained to thought, in the country school, or higher school, cannot fail to find there an exhaustless source of profitable enjoyment. Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two,  where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure. And not grass alone; but soils, seeds, and seasons — hedges, ditches, and fences, draining, droughts, and irrigation — plowing, hoeing, and harrowing — reaping, mowing, and threshing — saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops, and what will prevent or cure them — implements, utensils, and machines, their relative merits, and [how] to improve them — hogs, horses, and cattle — sheep, goats, and poultry — trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers — the thousand things of which these are specimens — each a world of study within itself….

      "…education — cultivated thought — can best be combined with agricultural labor, or any labor, on the principle of thorough work — that careless, half performed, slovenly work, makes no place for such combination. And thorough work, again, renders sufficient, the smallest quantity of ground to each man. And this again, conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to wars, and more devoted to the arts of peace, than heretofore. Population must increase rapidly — more rapidly than in former times — and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings."

      In fact, the speaker of these words was a Republican — Abraham Lincoln.   According to Abraham Lincoln Online, "When Abraham Lincoln gave this speech at the Wisconsin fair, Americans knew him as the rising Republican politician who debated Stephen Douglas.  One year later he would be elected president, and two years after that he signed the bill establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

      Sent in by James Godsll, Milwaukee (through COMFOOD e-list).   Someone else on the COMFOOD list added, "In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville warned about one of these – which he termed "manufacturing aristocracies"  (Ken Dahlberg, Western Michigan Univ.).  

      I would add that there are many other aristocracies that control our lives in 2012, including energy-kings, religious kings, science kings, insurance kings, medical kings, corporate kngs — profit and non-profit, media-kings, transportation kings — and any other person or group of persons who takes up more room on this Earth than they're entitled to and who live off the labors of other people and off of the Earth.

      In this same speech is a very interesting analysis of labor vs. capital.   See link below.

      Debbie Hillman


  6. Possible Republican routes to victory; scandal, local presence

    Remember when Dan Rostenkowski lost to the unknown Republican, Michael Flanagan? Rosty got caught in a scandal and Flanagan was the sacrificial lamb who just happened to be running when Rosty got nailed. (Of course, Flanagan lost in the next cycle to Blago. Ah, the irony!)

    The current make-up of these districts would make it difficult for a Republican to win. That said, I remember when Jay Lytle, a Republican, was mayor of Evanston. He was succeeded by Joan Barr, another Republican. Both Lytle and Barr were fiscal conservatives and social moderates (or perhaps even social liberals, particularly Barr). Granted, the mayoral race is non-partisan, but both of those candidates ran truly bi-partisan campaigns and counted many old-line Evanston Democrats as among their strongest supporters.

    In 2010, Joel Pollack ran against Schakowsky. He was a strident Tea Partier and, not surprisingly, he got thumped. This year, Tim Wolfe was the sacrificial lamb. He wasn't much of a candidate, but the campaign "flyer" he included in the Evanston Roundtable a couple of weeks ago was unintentionally the most hilarious piece of campaign material I saw the whole cycle. It even had a crossword puzzle that included clues like "Lake near downtown Chicago." Pretty hard to take him seriously.

    I also remember when a young Joe Walsh (yes, that Joe Walsh) lived in Evanston and ran as the Republican against Sid Yates. Walsh rode his bike throughout the district and was, of course, buried by Yates. Like a bad penny, Walsh came back again, but I'd say his political days are over now. (Some reporter asked him if he would make run for governor, and Walsh pretended as if the reporter was serious.)

    Of the candidates you cited, Gabel may be the most vulnerable to a serious challenge from a GOP opponent. The Republican would probably have to be someone who already had a constituency at the local level in a city, village or township office (see: Republican mayors of Evanston, above), and who is viewed as a social moderate or social liberal and a fiscal conservative.

    I think the congressional district is out of reach, barring scandal.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *