Primary Day in Illinois: In search of Republicans in Obamaland

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

CHICAGO—It takes some effort to spot Republican voters here in Cook County, the home of President Barack Obama and the deep blue region of a state that hasn't voted Republican in a generation.

But they're out there.

An initial search Tuesday morning for this rare specimen in downtown Chicago was a bust. On the first floor of an Erie Street high-rise, a handful of poll workers sat together in a row at a table covered in ballots, but there were few takers, and no one at the time was voting in the Republican primary.

So it was off to the outer reaches of the city, where higher-trafficked precincts were sure to yield a more robust sample. I crossed the Chicago River, the green dye from St. Patrick's Day long gone, and sped northwest on the Kennedy Expressway, where I found a precinct in the quiet Gladstone Park neighborhood with a steady flow of voters. A row of campaign signs lined the sidewalk outside, but alas, not one bore the name Romney, Santorum, Gingrich or Paul. Volunteers for local Democrats stood near the street enjoying the warmth of Chicago's freak winter, while children with campaign stickers on their hands ran around in a nearby park.

Then, out of the precinct walked Kenneth Finneky, a local retiree sporting a "Blagojevich" T-shirt tucked into a pair of blue shorts. He voted in the Republican primary—found one. He wouldn't say who he supported, but he was willing to talk about his shirt.

"I happened to be walking down the street and some woman was passing them out," he said, recalling how he came to own the garment bearing the name of the recently incarcerated former Illinois governor. "And I'll wear anything as long as it's free."

As for what kind of candidate he might have voted for:  "I like to take care of the guy who can take care of me," he said. "And that's how I look at it. I'm from the old school, OK? I'm from the old, old school."

With that, the search continued. For a long time, it was nothing but Democrat after Democrat. Many said they didn't care much about the Republican primary, and didn't care much for the people in the Republican primary, for that matter.

"I'm considering voting for Santorum to help the president," lifelong Democrat Sean Walsh said, but ultimately resisted the temptation.

While a few voters here did admit to voting Republican, they declined to provide their names. Most interviewed were Romney supporters. No Santorum supporters were found in this extremely small-scale experiment, although one Democratic voter, Charlie Wood, said he liked the former Pennsylvania senator the best because he's "honest."

Near the end of my time in Gladstone Park, I did find one Gingrich supporter, who, like the other Republicans, didn't want to say his name.

"I'm an anomaly," the Newt supporter, a police officer, said about being a Republican in Chicago. "Let's be honest, Romney will probably be the guy. ... But right now I'm voting for my conscience."

As the man walked away, a Democratic volunteer caught my eye.

"Don't listen to him," she said. "He's a Cub's fan."

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