Am I Blue!

When Hillary Clinton was growing up in Park Ridge, the town—like most of suburban Chicago—was emphatically Republican. Her youthful slide from right to left previewed by three decades a similar, remarkable shift among Illinois voters.

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Before she was blue: Growing up in this Georgian-style home in Park Ridge, Hillary Clinton took the Republican politics of her father


In the first three decades after Hillary Rodham left for college and moved squarely into the Democratic camp, Park Ridge didn’t change much politically. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the town was still dominated by old-fashioned Republicans of the vintage of Hillary’s father. Maine Township voted enthusiastically for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Russ Stewart, a Park Ridge attorney, writes a political column for Nadig Newspapers, a chain of Northwest Side weeklies. When he began practicing law in 1979, “everybody here was in their 50s and 60s—older people, Goldwater Republicans.” But those old voters have moved to Florida or the Town of Maine cemetery. They’re being replaced by young couples who voted Democratic when they were Lake View singles and aren’t about to let marriage or the suburbs change their views. The change has been swift. In 1984, Reagan won Maine Township with 71 percent of the vote. Four years later, Bush got 63 percent. Bill Clinton came within 2,500 votes of winning in 1992, and then painted the township blue during his reelection bid. “In another five years, Park Ridge will be like Oak Park,” Stewart predicts. “When I walk around on Saturday morning, I see these young couples with their dogs, getting coffee, and they’re social liberals.”

 

Just like their hometown’s favorite daughter.

* * *

The chaotic year of 1968 turned American politics upside down. It confirmed Hillary’s liberal beliefs and set the stage for suburbia’s eventual transformation three decades later. That winter, Hillary campaigned for Minnesota’s dovish senator Eugene McCarthy. Nonetheless, when she applied for a Washington internship, her thesis adviser at Wellesley College assigned her to the House Republican Conference. At the GOP convention in Miami, Hillary staffed a Nelson Rockefeller for President suite and was appalled by the nomination of Richard Nixon, who was hustling votes of Southern conservatives. She was just as taken aback by the Democratic convention in Chicago, which she and Betsy Ebeling witnessed firsthand, sneaking down to Grant Park by telling their parents they were going to a movie. Although she was no rebel, Hillary was shocked by the police brutality they saw and became convinced of the need for peaceful change. When she returned to Wellesley, Hillary decided to write her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer. “What that meant was that she was vitally interested in the problems of poor people,” says her former college adviser, Alan Schechter. “Republicans are traditionally not interested in spending tax money on the problems of poor people,” he says. “By that September, she had made up her mind.”

 

Photograph: AP/Michael S. Green


 

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