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I noticed that the Democrats had a very good result in downstate Illinois municipal elections earlier this month. I was very curious about how they pulled it off because my preoccupation right now is with figuring out how to undo the damage the Democratic Party sustained in rural areas over the last election cycle. Unfortunately, the main reporting I found on these elections, in the Huffington Post, doesn’t offer a satisfactory answer.

But, first, the good news:

In a spate of local elections last week in Illinois, Democrats picked up seats in places they’ve never won before.

The city of Kankakee elected its first African-American, Democratic mayor. West Deerfield Township will be led entirely by Democrats for the first time. Elgin Township voted for “a complete changeover,” flipping to an all-Democratic board. Normal Township elected Democratic supervisors and trustees to run its board ― the first time in more than 100 years that a single Democrat has held a seat.

“We had a pretty good day,” said Dan Kovats, executive director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association. “We won in areas we normally would win, but we also won in areas Republicans never expected us to be competitive in. They were caught flat-footed.”

Now, many of these successful politicians attended a candidate boot camp organized by Rep. Cheri Bustos, so some of the explanation may be that they benefited greatly from what they were taught. What I don’t know is if they had any shared message. The article explains why some of the candidates ran, but not really why they won. Chemberly Cummings seemed to think her success was related largely to flaws with her opponent and (maybe) her opponent’s party: “I also think … when you have the representative of a party who is negative, I think you’ll start to see some things change. Nobody wants to be associated with something negative. They want to be associated with the positive.”

I’d like to think there was more to it than people responded to some kind of generic comparative positivity. But some of these races for offices like town clerk don’t necessarily lend themselves to broad party messages.

Still, these folks had success where failure has been the recent norm. They may not have discovered the recipe for the secret sauce but they might have more to tell.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at