Polls have opened the special primary election to replace Dem Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and the Democratic field has narrowed to about two and a half serious contenders: former Cook County official and state Rep. (and 2010 state treasurer nominee) Robin Kelly, former IL-11 Rep Debbie Halvorson, and Chicago 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale. Given the state of play, Kelly is the presumed frontrunner, and the question in many of our minds has shifted from "Will Kelly win?" to "How much will Kelly win by?" The winner will almost certainly cruise to a victory in the general election in this district that Barack Obama 81 percent of the vote in November.
Halvorson's pushing a poll showing her up by four ... at 21 percent (to Kelly's 17 percent). We don't have to look back too far, though, to recall an instance in which Halvorson was stuck in the 20s—she did suffer a 71-29 drubbing at Jackson's hands less than a year ago. We can look to that race to see where Halvorson can expect pockets of strength ... and also why she's unlikely to win today.
As the map clearly shows, Halvorson performed strongly in the parts of the district furthest away from Chicago; she pulled 62 percent in Kankakee/Will Counties. Halvorson's base is clearly here (she resides in Crete, in Will County, and represented a large swath of this area both as a state Senator and in Congress), but unfortunately for her, the two counties made up...11 percent of all votes cast. Halvorson's making a play for crossover Republican votes (Illinois has open primaries), and this is where she'll need to get them.
In contrast, she got barely 25 percent in vote-rich five townships of suburban Cook in the district (55 percent of the electorate); she did best in Broom Township, which also substantially overlapped her old Senate district. Kelly hails from Matteson in Rich Township, an area that turned out strongly for Jackson and likely will for her. The Cook suburbs are easily where Kelly can expect to run up the margins, especially now that state Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped out of the race. Hutchinson—Halvorson's successor in the state Senate—likely would have drawn a similar base as Kelly, hailing from one town over (Olympia Fields).
The action is clearly in the suburbs, where Kelly is poised to do well. Today's primary was scheduled to coincide with regularly scheduled municipal and township elections. However, only suburban municipal offices are being contested (Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council aren't up until 2015), and further complicating matters, some local offices are partisan. In some jurisdictions, the special primary and municipal elections will be voted on one ballot, meaning that if you wanted to vote Republican for a local race, you could not also cast your vote for Halvorson in the primary. Even if the primary was voted on a separate ballot from local races, how many Republican voters would cross over—i.e., would voters really pull a Democratic ballot for the special while pulling a Republican ballot for municipal elections? Unfortunately for Halvorson's crossover-voting Hail Mary, Kankakee County features several contested Republican primaries.
Further complicating any assessment of turnout is the weather: Chicagoland is expected to get about 3 inches snow today over the course of the day. In other parts of the country, that'd merit a snow day (or three), but here, it's not regarded as much. It may be enough, though, to still have some effect on turnout.
We won't have to wait too long before results start rolling in, but in the meantime, please feel free to toss your predictions on how well Kelly, Beale, and Halvorson will perform today into the comments. (There are 12 other names on the ballot, including Hutchinson, who did not drop out until halfway through the two-week early voting period.) Polls close at 7pm (central), and, of course, we'll be live-blogging.
12:08 PM PT: Man, it's ugly out there, folks: