Illinois should have gone differently
The loss of a senate seat in Illinois is almost the Democrats' equivalent of GOPers nominating Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Carl Paladino for governor of New York.
The parallel is not precise. With all his liabilities as a candidate, Alexi Giannoulias is still not one of the fruitcake ingredients. In some ways his story is simple: he is basically just one in a long string of youngish up-and-comers of whatever political party, endowed with some good connections and promoted at some political juncture by a small group of people complacently betting on the wrong horse. Not much mystery there.
Nonetheless, Giannoulias is a particular irritant. The Illinois senate seat is an outstanding example, perhaps the outstanding example, of a loss Dems did not have to suffer in 2010, a gratuitous loss snatched from the jaws of victory.
There are times when some good finger-pointing is needed.
First, a little of the backstory, as they say in screenwriting:
In 2007, the Illinois primary became one of the earliest in the nation--moved up to the first Tuesday in February. This scheduling was not just a jostling to be one of the first states on the campaign calendar; it was intended to help then-Sen. Barack Obama win the nomination. Prognosticators wildly underestimated Obama and his campaign, and exactly how much the date of the Illinois primary contributed to Obama's win is debatable, but the motive was widely known. In 2010--after the primary that nominated Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk--the Illinois primary was moved back to March.
Illinois' 2010 primaries were something of a fiasco all around, with winter weather and the lowest voter turnout in history. Nominees included the Dems' pick for Lieutenant Governor, a pawnbroker with a questionable background, Scott Lee Cohen. But the problem is broader than just Illinois. One of the unreported truths about primaries is that some states time them so as to discourage voter turnout. In scheduling elections, there are three main ways to maximize disengagement and to discourage the will of the people: You can close the polls as early as possible, to give working people who want to vote after work the hardest possible time; you can schedule your primary elections during a month when you know turnout will be lower; and you can prevent or refuse to pass legislation for early voting.
All three tactics are in heavy use in states where the GOP is dominant: