Jim Thompson's 1976 election victory started a 26-year period of Republican governors in Illinois.

Jim Thompson’s 1976 election victory started a 26-year period of Republican governors in Illinois.

On paper this should be the election year where the Illinois Republican party bounces back from near obscurity. President Barack Obama is in the middle of his second term and historically, off-year elections in this situation favor the “out” party – even in the President’s home state.

Governor Pat Quinn has terrible favorable ratings, the state faces budget and deficit issues plus the “elephant” in the financial room – the pension crisis – is threatening to split the Democratic party.

Lastly, the Republicans have a four-way fight for the gubernatorial nomination and since the Democrats have no serious statewide primary battles, the GOP has garnered most of the media publicity. Yet, despite up and back accusations by the gubernatorial candidates, one sees little fire among the Republican faithful.

In fact, some observers are predicting a lower-than-average turnout. Why? Could it be the Illinois GOP are suffering from a case of “defeatism?”

A couple of decades ago, Illinois Republicans ruled the state mansion.

From 1976 to 2002, GOP gubernatorial candidates won SEVEN straight elections – with several of these races being Republican landslides. GOP candidates could count on solid margins from northwest and southwest Cook County townships; strong and massive margins in the five collar counties – especially DuPage — and consistent vote domination downstate.

However, in recent statewide contests, this geo-political electoral coalition has been seriously impaired.

In the 21st century gubernatorial races (2002, 2006, 2010) suburban Cook County has given the Democratic candidates (yes, even Rod Blagojevich — twice) significant margin victories; the collar counties have become more competitive (especially Lake and Will), thus leaving only downstate as a solid and predictable GOP margin producer.

Racial change is the easy answer for the GOP slide in suburban Cook (certainly true in the south suburbs) but it does not explain vote margin reductions in the northwest and southwest parts of the county. In these two regions as well as parts of the collars, GOP candidates’ position on social issues, e.g., abortion, contraception, guns and same-sex marriage – has hurt the party among women and young voters. Though much has been written about women moving away from the Republican party – little has been mentioned about the 18–29-year-olds.

In short, it is a different day in suburban Cook and the collars.

Democratic-leaning and independent-minded new voters have replaced many of the GOP diehards who produced big time in the past for almost every Republican candidate. The young families living in suburbia still demand good schools, local fiscal conservatism and solid public services, but long-held GOP views on the social issues listed above put Republican statewide candidates on the defensive in these areas.

Final point: In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama’s greatest support among age groups was the 18–29-year-olds. Newly minted young voters are not all economic liberals – many worry about finding jobs and paying off student loans.

However, most do hold liberal views on the pressing social issues of the day – a fact Republican candidates in Illinois and elsewhere must not ignore!

Paul Green also wrote about the Republican gubernatorial primary in this post, saying Bruce Rauner will win if he has more than one opponent.

Green did an extensive study of what needs to happen for each of the four Republican candidates to win the primary in this piece.

Find out where the candidates stand on important issues in the questionnaires we did with the Better Government Association.Here’s the questionnaire for the Democratic candidates. The Republicanresponses are here.

What do the Republican candidates think about taxes? It’s not so simple.

Follow the 2014 gubernatorial election in the cartoons of Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis. See the collection here.