Friday, July 3, 2009

A Primary Primer

Congressman Mark Kirk (District 10) has infuriated his Republican base by voting last Friday in favor of the Cap & Trade Bill. Kirk may now be vulnerable to a primary challenge from the Right.

Kirk has not faced a challenger in a Republican Primary since 2000. But Melissa Bean has had to face off against other Democrats in two of the last three primaries. Even when Phil Crane held that seat, he regularly had Primary challengers -- and from the Right!

So the possibility that Kirk will have a primary challenger is a real one, and in fact may be overdue. Particularly if you look at the voting demographics of the 10th Congressional District, and the dynamics of primary elections. The 10th is unquestionably one of the more liberal districts in the state. The district's Cook PVI is set at a substantial left-of-center D+6. This is a district that gave Obama 61% to McCain's 38%. Even subtracting out an Obama bounce, the 10th District preferred Kerry over Bush 52% to 47% in 2004, and Gore over Bush 51% to 47% in 2000.

You would think that would give the liberal leaning Kirk an advantage in a primary, but this is actually a disadvantage for a candidate who politically is to the left of his Republican base.

Mark Kirk is the Blanche Dubois of Illinois Republicans, he depends on the kindness of moderates and conservative Democrats to get re-elected every election. However he cannot rely on this voting block in a primary election.

Compared to general elections, primaries typically garner low voter turnout. Since Illinois primaries are designed to be partisan elections, what this means is that non-partisan voters -- so-called moderates -- tend to sit out Illinois primaries. As for those conservative Democrats, they are still Democrats and will be asking for a Democratic ballot to vote for the Democratic candidates they support.

Another factor contributing to low turnout will be that the primary has been moved up from March to February 2. Any voter disinclined to brave the March weather to vote, will be double disinclined to vote in early February.

The voting block that is Kirk's margin of victory cannot be expected to be voting for him in the Primary. Expect anyone who does show up at the polling place to be a party loyalist, a political true-believer. In other words, that same Republican base that Kirk just angered with his "Cap & Tax" vote.

This is looking more and more like a pick-up opportunity for a Republican who can tap into that anger and challenge Kirk for being too liberal. Your LakeCountyEye's magic crystal ball indicates a quick & dirty win for someone willing to sail in under the radar from the Right.

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