Numbers don’t lie: It’s true, Kane County has shifted blue

Democrats now dominate county offices in former Republican stronghold

St. Charles resident Susan Sanders, spoke at the Kane County Democrats' annual Truman Dinner last month where nearly 400 Democrats attended. Sanders recalled when Mary Lou Kearns was the only county-wide elected Democrat in Kane County, and a meeting might draw 40 people.

When Susan Sanders of St. Charles received the Democratic Chair’s Award at the annual Truman Dinner last month, she recalled when her party was in the minority.

“My history with Kane County Democrats goes back 40 years,” Sanders said, speaking to a packed house of almost 400 Democrats at the Q Center in St. Charles. “I remember when events like this drew about 40 people and Mary Lou Kearns was the sole Democrat in office. And look at this energized crowd.”

Kearns had been the coroner/chief medical examiner for 23 years from 1976 to 1999.

Now, Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog is a Democrat. State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser is a Democrat. Sheriff Ron Hain is a Democrat. Circuit Clerk Theresa Barreiro is a Democrat. Auditor Penny Wegman is a Democrat.

That leaves County Clerk Jack Cunningham, Coroner Rob Russell and Recorder Sandy Wegman as the only countywide elected officials who are Republicans.

Sixteen of the 24 county board members are Democrats.

The bluing of Kane County can be measured from the 2016 primary election, when 34,440 Democratic ballots were requested, dwarfed by the 70,352 Republican ballots that were requested, according to the Kane County Clerk’s Office.

Back then, the difference was 35,912 more ballots for the GOP.

Kane County still was officially red.

In the 2020 primary, 64,525 Democrats requested ballots, which was more than the 52,554 Republican ballots requested, a difference of 11,971, according to the clerk’s records.

By 2022, Democrats requested 64,278 primary ballots and Republicans requested 47,806 ballots, a difference of 16,472, according to the clerk’s records.

Mark Guethle was chosen to lead Kane County Democrats for an 11th term. He has served for the past 20 years.

For this year’s March 19 primary, Democrats requested 23,270 ballots, which actually was less than the Republicans’ 23,380 ballots, a difference of 110 in the GOP’s favor, according to the clerk’s records.

“This primary, the Democrats did not outvote the Republicans,” Cunningham said. “But by the same token it’s because they had five people running for president. It’s apples and oranges, different elections, different candidates.”

Cunningham’s office reports 340,254 registered voters.

The real power in the Nov. 5 general election will come from independent voters, the 217,522 who have not declared for either party in a primary, he said.

That real power likely will swing to the Democrats.

“They usually vote Democratic,” Cunningham said of independent voters. “A nonpartisan seems to vote Democratic in Kane County and that is why we turned blue.”

Andro Lerario introduces 2024 primary election candidates during a press conference at the Kane County Republican Central Committee headquarters in St. Charles on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024.

Kane County Republican Chairman Andro Lerario agreed the Democrats’ numbers were up, but not by much, and certainly not forever.

“The Dems are up on us by 10% to 12%,” Lerario said. “Those numbers are more purple than blue or red. ... In numbers, there is nothing to celebrate. Let’s call it purple – it makes it more exciting. It doesn’t make you boring. My message is yes, we are purple, both parties should fight and be more civilized.”

Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethele said, “Simple math will tell you ... Illinois is blue, Kane County is blue.”

“Look at the governor’s race in 2018. It was a midterm cycle. A lot of Dems don’t come out,” Guethele said. “It’s always 6% higher for Democrats in a presidential election. In 2018, look at how many votes [JB] Pritzker got and how many [Bruce] Rauner got.”

Pritzker got 2,479,74 votes, beating incumbent Rauner’s 1,765,751 votes (54.5% to 38.8%), according to official results.

“That is the year I say everything switched,” Guethele said. “From 2018 on, we’re blue. ... The state is definitely blue and so is Kane County.”

Guethele said other factors in the Democrats’ favor is his party’s work in the county and elsewhere in the state, as well as a growing antipathy toward Donald Trump who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president in the Nov. 5 general election.

“Hillary [Clinton] carried it in 2016 in Kane County and we are going to carry it again,” Guethele said. “Democrats carried it in 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022 and I will make a prediction that we will in 2024. In the fifth cycle, we will carry it again. Biden will carry it by double digits.”