Glenn Poshard, Darren Bailey, J.B. Pritzker, Illinois governor, 

Darren Bailey looks at Chicago and sees a hellhole — a Godless, multicultural metropolis surrendered to criminals by permissive politicians and prosecutors. That’s how it looks from a cornfield in Clay County, where fireflies flash at night and the dew clings to the grass every morning.

Chicago looks at Darren Bailey and sees…a pickup truck with an NRA sticker on the windshield. A TV preacher promising hellfire to homosexuals, abortionists, and believers in climate change. Brett Eldredge singing “I come from the heart of the Heartland/Where picture shows, where the corn grows.” The cast of Hee Haw jumping out of the corn to shout, “Xenia, Illinois, population 380. Sa-lute!”

Bailey is going to lose this election for governor because he fears big cities, because he doesn’t think gun owners should have to carry an ID, because he believes abortion is worse than the Holocaust. Bailey can’t help thinking this way: He’s a Southern Boy. Unfortunately for him, a Southern Boy can’t win a statewide election in Illinois, a state in which three-quarters of the population lives north of Interstate 80.

According to The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, Bailey’s home of Clay County is part of the Upland South, a politico-cultural region that also includes southern Indiana, southern Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Kentucky contributed the largest number of settlers to Southern Illinois. To this day, Southern Illinoisans think, talk and act more like Kentuckians than Chicagoans. Kentucky passed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Gun owners there can carry concealed weapons without a permit. Bailey would drive to Casey’s at 80 miles an hour to buy pens to sign those bills.

“Upland Southerners typically were the first settlers in the southern Midwest, initially controlling territorial and state governments and establishing the political and social culture,” wrote the Encyclopedia’s authors. “As northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois filled with Yankees, Upland Southerners’ political and cultural dominance faded. Political conflicts underlain by cultural differences emerged over African American immigration and civil rights, state support for internal improvements, public support for education, and other issues. Cultural perceptions or misperceptions added fuel to political conflicts. Many Upland Southerners believed that Yankees regarded them as socially, educationally, and economically inferior.”

(Governor Pritzker canceled a Confederate Railroad concert at the DuQuoin State Fair, so Upland Southerners may be right about that.)

Upland Southerners are mostly Scots-Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. At the time of the Civil War, they were “yeoman farmers [who] resented the economic and political power of Lowland Southerners and the labor competition represented by the slave system.” The Upland South was mainly loyal to the Union, but here in Illinois, Upland Southerners supported Black Laws prohibiting freed slaves from settling in the state. As a result of this hostility to both free and slave Black labor, Clay County is 97.7 percent white.

Bailey won’t be the first candidate for governor undone by his Southernness. It also happened to Glenn Poshard, the Democratic nominee in 1998. Poshard was enormously popular in Southern Illinois. He won more than 80 percent of the vote in White, Gallatin, Franklin, and Williamson counties — four counties that will certainly vote for Bailey in November. He was one of those pro-labor Democrats beloved by miners and factory workers who believed that Jesus and John L. Lewis were the two greatest men ever to walk the Earth. During the 1990s, he railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Labor Secretary Robert Reich to intervene on behalf of union members locked out by the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., a Decatur corn and soybean processor. But Poshard was also opposed to abortion — he called himself a “whole life Democrat,” who believed in protecting the lives of unborn children and also supporting mothers after they gave birth. Poshard also believed that landlords should be allowed to turn away gay and lesbian tenants. His conservative social views cost him the election. He lost several lakefront wards with significant gay populations to his Republican opponent, Secretary of State George Ryan — a problematic candidate in his own right, who ended up serving five years in prison for a licenses-for-bribes scandal. (Poshard is one of the great “what ifs” in Illinois politics. If he had won, the state would have been spared both Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. “I wouldn’t have gone to jail,” he once told me. Upland Southerners may not be as progressive as Chicagoans, but they are more honest.)

The last Southern Illinoisan to win a race for governor was Louis Lincoln Emmerson of Mount Vernon — in 1928. There are, currently, no statewide elected officials from south of Springfield, where Senator Dick Durbin lives. Darren Bailey isn’t going to change either of those facts. He would make a great governor of Kentucky, though.

Related Content