ShareThis Page

Out of Chicago, conservatives abound

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008

PEORIA, Ill. -- Staunch conservative Shannon Blackburn remembers the first time she got a rush from politics.

When George H.W. Bush began his campaign against Bill Clinton for the nation's highest office, Blackburn was 6 and sang a song to her mother.

"I don't know where I heard it, but I repeated it once to my mom and she thought it was hilarious -- I heard someone chanting, 'Bush, Bush, he's our man, Clinton goes in the garbage can.' It cracked her up," said Blackburn, 22, who is from Peoria but moved to Chicago to study business. "That was when I first realized I loved politics."

Today, Blackburn will be among voters in 24 states who cast ballots in primaries or caucuses. She plans to vote for John McCain, now that Rudy Giuliani is out of the running for the Republican nomination.

Like her fellow downstaters, Blackburn took some convincing. She comes from contested territory. Blackburn's adopted hometown of Chicago is about as solidly Democratic as can be. In the last presidential primary, more than 94 percent of Chicago voters and 70 percent of suburban Cook County voted Democratic, according to city and county election Web sites.

"Downstate" Illinois voters like Blackburn, in towns and small cities like Peoria, usually vote toward more-traditional values but don't always conform to party lines, and their votes often are up for grabs, said Lance Trover, the Republican Party's state spokesman, who grew up in the downstate hamlet of Vienna.

Many downstate voters favor Mike Huckabee and liked former candidate Fred Thompson, Trover said.

Chicago and its surrounding "collar counties" usually make up about 70 percent of ballots cast in Illinois, a state that went to the Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, said Ken Menzel, an election specialist for the State Board of Elections.

But if downstate voters turn out in November, they could shift the balance statewide, Trover said.

McCain appeared to be gaining ground. A recent Rasmussen poll placed him in the lead in several states that award delegates on some kind of proportional basis -- Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Minnesota and Oklahoma. These states offer a total of 337 delegates, and McCain is likely to win at least 40 percent of them, the poll predicted.

At the county committee's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in East Peoria on Saturday night, Giuliani was supposed to make an appearance. Instead, organizers replaced him with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, co-chair of McCain's national campaign.

Pawlenty was introduced by the party's county chairwoman, Demetra DeMonte, as one of the people on McCain's "short list" for vice president.

DeMonte, who said she favors Mitt Romney, said downstate Republicans are ideologically conservative, regardless of strategy: they're "pro-life, pro-gun, pro-marriage and family -- this is God's country, it really is."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.