Which party is really in charge in DeKalb County?
Historically, it has been Republicans. A 1948 story about Democrat Harry S. Truman’s 1948 presidential victory noted that DeKalb County had followed “its traditional policy of running two-to-one or better for the Republican candidates.”
The end of straight-ticket party voting in the 1990s may have allowed more Democrats to receive votes here. The ’90s also was the decade in which Bill Clinton became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the county, in 1992.
Here’s a statistic that would have been shocking in 1948: DeKalb County voters have preferred the Democratic presidential candidate in each of the past three elections. They also chose Democrat Tammy Duckworth over incumbent Republican Mark Kirk for Senate in 2016, backed Democrat Wanda Rohl over Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger for Congress in 2012 and plumped for Dems Lisa Madigan for Attorney General and Jesse White for Secretary of State in 2014.
The DeKalb County Board chairman is a Democrat, although the board is evenly split, 12-12, among the parties heading into the fall election.
In terms of local party organization, Democrats have the better numbers. The Dems had 50 precinct committeemen in 65 precincts as of April, according to information from the county clerk’s office. Republicans had 34 committeemen. That kind of ground-level organization can be a sign of strength, depending on how committed the committeemen are to mobilizing their base and getting out the vote.
Republicans still control a majority of county elected offices (city races are nonpartisan, although you often can guess a city council member’s party affiliation).
Since Rick Amato claimed the State’s Attorney’s office in 2016, all county officers (sheriff, coroner, treasurer, circuit clerk and clerk and recorder) again are held by Republicans. Sheriff Roger Scott has been in office since 1985 and is running unopposed for an eighth full term this fall. Coroner Dennis Miller is serving his eighth term (although Miller was a Democrat until the mid-’90s). Three of the county’s four circuit judges are Republicans – with Democrat Ron Matekaitis being the exception.
Both of the Congressmen who represent DeKalb County (Rep. Randy Hultgren and Kinzinger) are Republicans, and the county has never backed a Democrat for governor. The state representatives and senators who represent the area are Republicans.
If county voters were to support a Democrat in some state or county race for the first time this fall, it would be surprising, but only mildly so.
If recent history is a guide, DeKalb County is an area that is “in play.” Candidates in this fall’s elections should campaign accordingly.
• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.