Illinois primary watchers expect sleeper

January 10, 2012 8:26:53 PM PST
While all eyes are on New Hampshire Tuesday night, there are real questions about whether Illinois' primary votes will even matter in the race for the Republican nomination for president.

It will be 70 more days - 10 weeks, two-and-a-half months - before Illinois voters pick their preference in the party primaries. This year, it's looking like lower profile state legislature, congressional, even county office races will have to be what inspires Illinois voters to go to the polls March 20. And if you're not inspired this year, you're not alone.

Hoping to be a player in the tight race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Illinois moved its primary up to February 5, 2008, a date dubbed "Super Duper Tuesday."

A record number of voters. Overwhelmed polling places. A primary election that mattered. What a difference four years makes.

"We had people triple parked outside 69 W. Washington racing in with forms at the deadline. It was absolute mayhem," said Jim Allen, Chicago Board of Elections.

This year at the Chicago Board of Elections: crickets -- a sign, perhaps of slumping interest.

In 2004, statewide the primary turnout was 29 percent. In 2008, it surged to 41 percent.

This year, election watchers expect a sleeper. In Chicago alone, a quarter of a million fewer people are registered to vote in the March primary.

"We've seen very little activity. We're right now at record low levels of active registered voters," said Allen.

At a Mitt Romney rally Tuesday night, Republicans hoped to counter "primary fatigue." Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady says a rule change means there's a "chance" Illinois could still be in play come March 20th.

"Four years ago, if you won a state, got one more vote, you got all the delegates. Now it's proportionate so you get a proportion of the vote you won so that could stretch it out. You won't accumulate delegates as quickly as you would have in the past," said Brady.

Illinois primary voters may not matter in the presidential race but their money does. That's why President Obama is returning to Chicago Wednesday afternoon for three back-to-back fundraisers. His campaign is headquartered in Chicago and so are many of the dollars he'll need to fight off whomever is the Republican nominee.