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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

What Yesterday’s Results Tell Us About the Illinois Primary

Clinton and Trump are both up in the polls in Illinois, but Michigan showed that no lead is safe.

Late polling showed Bernie Sanders down by 21 points in Illinois, but he managed to pull out a win.  Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

The Illinois primaries are now less than a week away—Tuesday, March 15—and yesterday’s primaries, especially in Michigan, carry clues as to whether Hillary and Donald will have a cakewalk to the their parties’ nominations or remain an IED-strewn slog to that big chair in the Oval Office. Here are some observations from yesterday’s contests in the messy races for the Democratic and Republican nominations. 

Sanders in a squeaker

The pundits (“corporate media,” in Bernie parlance) and every pollster whose predictions I studied had Hillary easily winning Michigan. The consensus was by 21 points.  Wrong! 

Hour after hour last night, CNN deemed the race too close to call. Results from Wayne County, which includes Detroit, were only partially reported, and Hillary’s advantage with African Americans had already been tested and proved time and again.

Bernie emerged at 9:50 p.m. to call the race tight, but whether he won or lost, he said, with justification, it was a  “repudiation” of “pollsters and pundits.”  At 9:58 I received a fundraising email, addressed, as always, “Sisters and Brothers,” and signed “In solidarity.”   

“Something amazing is happening in the state of Michigan,” the message read. “The race is too close to call—but we’re in the lead. And no matter what happens, this is a great night for our political revolution.” 

Finally at 10:33 the AP called the race for Bernie. With 96 percent of the votes counted, he had upset Hillary by 50 percent to 48.1 percent. Victory must have seemed to him so unlikely that he had no prepared victory speech.

Bernie won by upping his game with African Americans—Hillary still won there but by a smaller margin than expected—and by winning the white male vote, the independent vote, and the youth vote.  No surprise on that last group; on Monday he addressed 5,700 supporters in the college town of Ann Arbor. 

He pounded the theme of ending income inequality and trade agreements, which, he argued, rob the Rust Belt of jobs.  Yes, he means NAFTA,  which passed during Bill Clinton’s tenure with the help of Chicago guys Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and that deeply resonated in Michigan.  So did his refutation of Hillary’s charge at Sunday’s debate that that he had voted against the auto bailout.  In fact, he had voted for it,  but also voted earlier against a bill that included, he said,  “a middle-class bailout for the crooks on Wall Street.”  (Hillary supported NAFTA and TPP, the latter until she got in the race.)

Bernie worked extremely hard in Michigan; a loss would have been devastating, a win puts the wind at his back.  Hillary is ahead by a mile in Ohio, which most resembles Michigan, and even more so in Illinois.  His new slogan now ought to be “Remember Michigan—and forget the polls.”

Trump strikes back, and Rubio strikes out

Meanwhile, Trump won Michigan by double digits (12 points)—the race was called just 10 minutes after the polls closed—with Cruz second and Kasich close behind. Rubio, who had another miserable night, came in fourth and appears  to have collected zero delegates.

Trump easily won Mississippi with 47 percent of the vote, to 36 percent for Cruz.

In Mississippi, where Sanders was invisible and where African Americans account for 60 percent of the vote—the largest percentage of African Americans of any state—Hillary Clinton won with 82.6 percent. (The win was called as soon as the polls closed.)  By crushing Sanders, she continued her romp through the southern states and, despite Michigan, continued to lead Sanders in delegates and super delegates.

On to Illinois

That was yesterday, now to tomorrow: All eyes on Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina.

Before the polls closed in Michigan yesterday, John Kasich, the sitting Republican Governor of Ohio, was rallying voters in Cleveland.  The state is a must-win for him.  Marco Rubio, who came in fourth in both Michigan and Mississippi, faces a must-win in his own home state, so he was leading a rally in Sarasota, Florida.  Ted Cruz, who won the Republican-only primary in Idaho—Trump came in second—was in North Carolina.  Hillary Clinton rallied supporters in Ohio.

Trump relished/boasted about his Mississippi and Michigan wins—he also, hours later, won the Republican caucus in Hawaii—during a bizarre press/sales conference from his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida. At one point he brandished a raw Trump Steak in his hand—probably a visual goof as the huge steak overwhelmed his manicured fingers.

None of the candidates was in Illinois, which, if we are to believe the polls—including the latest from the Chicago Tribune—will easily go to Donald and Hillary. In her sort-of home state of Illinois—Hillary was born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge—she is way ahead of Vermont-by-way-of-Brooklyn Bernie—67 to 25.  Among African Americans in Illinois—a quarter of the state’s voters—she leads Sanders 76 to 16.  She leads by similar numbers among Hispanics.

The same poll shows Trump ahead in Illinois, with 32 percent, Cruz at 22, Rubio at 21, and Kasich at 18.  

Trump will worry about winner-take-all Ohio, where Kasich is the popular governor and has predicted a win for himself.  (One poll shows him within three points of Trump.)  And Trump will even have to worry about “little Marco” in winner-take-all Florida, where Rubio is the unpopular Senator. (Illinois apportions delegates by way of a complicated “proportional delegate format” involving our state’s 18 congressional districts.)  Should Kasich and Rubio both pull off wins in their home states—doubtful—Trump could could get stuck going to the convention without enough delegates and a contested free-for-all might result.

Stumping in Evanston

Former President Bill Clinton speaks in Evanston on Tuesday.  Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

As voters went to the polls yesterday, Bill Clinton was in Evanston at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue speaking to some 500 people, prepping them for next week’s Illinois primary.  I’d expect an encore here from Bill and perhaps Chelsea as well.  (They both campaigned for Hillary in Michigan, so her loss there must seem especially sad.) CNN commentator Van Jones quipped that Hillary will probably send in Buddy the dog and Socks the cat as well, although Anderson Cooper noted that the White House pets are both long dead. 

The former president also made a stop on the West Side, accompanied by Congressman Danny Davis, who once told me that Bill Clinton is his “homeboy.” (They share Arkansas roots.)  They stopped to greet surprised diners at MacArthur’s Restaurant in Austin.  The Sun-Times’s Tina Sfondeles ended her report with this beauty that illustrates how Bill remains a mixed blessing for his wife: “Cherita Logan, district director for Davis, spent about a minute speaking with Clinton. She said she told the former president she’s proud of Hillary Clinton for standing by him despite his affair.  ’I thanked Hillary for keeping her [marital] vows. Marriage is for better or worse, for better or worse, good or bad. … She kept her vow.’”

Of course presidential races are about much more than the man or woman at the top of the ticket.  Crain’s Greg Hinz wrote yesterday that  if Hillary loses Michigan, Democrats in Illinois will be more likely to get out and vote.  “If African American voters conclude in some numbers that Clinton no longer needs them, Kim Foxx’s challenge to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez will become more difficult, and Andrea Zopp’s Senate contest against Tammy Duckworth will be over. Both Foxx and Zopp need a very big turnout among black voters, and though Alvarez’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting case will move some numbers, a tight presidential race will, too.”  (Both Zopp and Foxx are Hillary supporters.)  

On the GOP side, Hinz writes, Trump’s decisive victories in Michigan and Mississippi are bad news for Mark Kirk, who “must have burned through his rosary beads by now praying for the Donald Trump bandwagon to hit a chuck hole. Kirk is going to have enough difficulty as it is carrying Democratic-leaning Illinois. Having to explain Trump, too … will be just too much, I suspect.”

Echos of 1988

In 1988, Jesse Jackson won the Michigan primary against Michael Dukakis, who went on to win the Democratic nomination and lose the general election.  (Missouri’s Rep. Richard Gephardt finished third and he soon dropped out.)

One thing I’m sure of after this long night of watching the Michigan cliffhanger:  Bill Clinton won’t cite Jackson’s win in Michigan as a means to diminish Sanders’s win yesterday. That line didn’t turn out too well for him and his wife when he tried that during the 2008 primaries, citing Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 wins in the South Carolina primary as a means to diminish Barack Obama’s decisive win there over Hillary.

Who needs Frank Underwood?

Hillary and Bernie debate tonight in Miami.  The Republicans debate tomorrow night, also in Miami).  I can’t wait to watch both of them.  I’m well into the fourth season of House of Cards, but, in my opinion, the go-for-the-kill clashes among these candidates are far more entertaining—and disturbing.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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