Sauk Valley backed Darren Bailey in ways not seen since Jim Edgar’s 1994 landslide victory

Election 2024
Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey greets the crowd in Amboy Friday, June 17, 2022 as he makes a campaign trip across northern Illinois. Bailey is on the republican ticket for this month’s primary.

Darren Bailey’s vote-getting in the Sauk Valley in the Nov. 8 general election was exceptionally strong.

Incumbent Democrat JB Pritzker defeated Bailey in statewide returns. While there has been much analysis about Bailey’s weakness in the Chicago suburbs, there was no question he energized voters in the Lee, Whiteside, Ogle and Carroll counties.

In fact, it was the most votes by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the four-county region since Jim Edgar’s landslide victory in 1994.

Although the tallies are still unofficial, Bailey picked up 34,504 votes across the four counties. He had 12,284 in Ogle, 11,064 in Whiteside, 7,202 in Lee and 3,954 in Carroll.

Edgar had slightly more – 35,041 – when he defeated Dawn Clark Netsch. Edgar got 12,179 in Whiteside, 10,285 in Ogle, 8,114 in Lee and 4,463 in Carroll, according to results gleaned from the 1995-96 Illinois Blue Book.

In a photo taken June 11, 1990, Illinois Secretary of State Jim Edgar (center, foreground) chats with Lee County Clerk Rosemary Emmert and state Rep. Myron Olson, a Dixon Republican. In the background are Lee County Republican Chairman Tom Shaw (left) and state Sen. Harlan Rigney, a Freeport Republican. Edgar spoke to the Rotary Club, made brief stops at both Lee County courthouses, and traveled to Sterling to tour Northwestern Steel and Wire Co. A Gazette editorial from June 13, 1990, took Edgar to task for his opposition to a lawsuit regarding the state funding of education. Edgar, a Republican, was elected governor in November 1990 and re-elected in 1994.

It was no surprise a Republican would carry the four counties. The region has been solidly behind Republican candidates for governor since well before 1900; the exceptions in 2006 when Whiteside County went for Rod Blagojevich and 1912 when Progressives emerged.

Even so, Bailey got more votes than Bruce Rauner’s 30,133 in 2018 or 30,820 in 2014.

It also was more than the 32,027 Bill Brady received in 2010.

The four counties cast 23,271 votes for Judy Baar Topinka in 2006, 26,104 for Jim Ryan in 2002 and 28,968 for George Ryan in 1998.

Bailey’s percentage of the vote in each county also was significant. He was strongest in Carroll at 65.91%, but Ogle was behind him at 63.94%, Lee at 59.35% and Whiteside at 55.43%.

What’s that about 1912?

In 1912, supporters of former President Theodore Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party after the Republican National Convention – held in June that year in Chicago – nominated his rival William Howard Taft for the presidency.

The Progressives then met Aug. 5 at the Chicago Coliseum. Frank H. Funk, a Republican state senator from McLean County, served as chairman of the Illinois delegation and was picked as the new party’s gubernatorial candidate.

Frank H. Funk, Progressive gubernatorial candidate from 1912.

Incidentally, Funk had not run in the Republican party’s April primary, itself a contentious affair.

Incumbent Gov. Charles S. Deneen emerged as the Republican nominee in a field that included a former state treasurer, a former governor in Richard Yates and two state senators.

During the campaign, Funk’s ideological base was in northern Illinois, perhaps due in part to its proximity to Wisconsin, where Progressivism already was well-established.

During the gubernatorial race, Funk carried three Sauk Valley counties: Ogle, Lee and Whiteside. Only Carroll got behind Deneen.

The split in the party opened the door, however, to Democratic nominee Edward F. Dunne. Dunne won with 38.11% of the vote and to this day remains the only Chicago mayor to also get elected Illinois governor.

Deneen was second at 27.39%, Funk third at 26.09%, Socialist John C. Kennedy fourth at 6.7% and prohibitionist minister Edwin R. Worrell a distant fifth.

Progressive fervor was short-lived in Illinois; the party fielded no candidate for governor in 1916. Meanwhile, the next Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Frank Lowden (whose estate was near Oregon), carried the Sauk Valley en route to election as the state’s 25th governor.

The Progressive Party’s platform, however, included reforms eventually adopted into national life: women’s suffrage; direct election of senators; worker’s compensation; social welfare for the elderly, unemployed and disabled; and an amendment to establish a federal income tax.

After an unsuccessful run as a Progressive candidate for the U.S. Senate the next year, Funk eventually returned to the Republican fold. He was elected to Congress three times in the 17th District. He is interred at Funk’s Grove, a national landmark along U.S. Route 66.

Quick takes

Democrats. Pritzker got 1,537 fewer votes in the Sauk Valley counties this time than he did during his first run for governor. He got 8,268 in Whiteside, 6,338 in Ogle, 4,552 in Lee and 1,859 in Carroll.

Libertarians. Scott Schluter got a little bit more than 3% of the vote in Lee and Whiteside. That’s on par with what Grayson Jackson got in those counties in 2018, but less than the 5% Chad Grimm got in 2014.

Treasurer. Republican Tom Demmer of Dixon carried each of the Sauk Valley counties in his unsuccessful run against incumbent Michael Frerichs. Demmer was 8,205 to 3,613 in Lee, 11,701 to 7,637 in Whiteside, 13,258 to 5,456 in Ogle and 4,021 to 1,750 in Carroll.

Strongest showing. Discounting Demmer’s backyard boost, the state-level candidate with the strongest support in the four counties was Dan Brady. A member of the statehouse since 2001, Brady was running for secretary of state. He got 63% of the vote in Lee, 58% in Whiteside, 67% in Ogle and 68% in Carroll.