Written by Amanda Luevano
While Democrats across DuPage County celebrate several Election Day victories—including the re-election of President Barack Obama—the DuPage GOP is heading back to the drawing board.
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The votes in DuPage County, an once known as a Republican stronghold, closely mirrored those of the nation Nov. 6, with 49.57 percent voting for President Barack Obama and 48.54 percent voting for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to unofficial results.
In 2008, 54.72 percent of DuPage County voters supported Obama, while 43.93 percent cast their vote for Sen. John McCain.
"I think this year's DuPage County numbers show that Obama's popularity in 2008 wasn't a fluke," said Bob Peickert, chairman of the DuPage County Democrats. "The president may not have won by as much, but it's important to consider that he won again in a county that was once considered one of the most Republican counties in the country."
The real story unfolded at the local level, he added.
In March 2008, only two of DuPage County's elected officials were Democrats, and they served only 3 percent of the county, Peickert said.
According to the DuPage County Democrats' tally, the county now has 17 Democrats elected to the United States Congress, Illinois General Assembly, DuPage County Board and Forest Preserve Commission.
"I think this election proved that Democrats in DuPage are realizing they're not the only ones on the block," Peickert said. "We've experienced such growth—you no longer have to be a Republican to have a chance at getting elected here."
Among the Democratic Party's major victories Nov. 6 were Deborah O'Keefe Conroy of Elmhurst in the Illinois' 46th House district, Tom Cullerton of Villa Park in the 23rd Senate District, Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates in the 8th Congressional District and Bill Foster of Naperville in the 11th Congressional District.
"What's significant about Conroy's district is that it's exclusively DuPage County, and I believe it's the first House seat we've won in about 40 years," Peickert said. "Cullerton is also our first Democratic state senator, so we're thrilled about that."
DuPage County also elected three Democrats to the county board—Tony Michelassi of Aurora, Elizabeth Chaplin of Downers Grove and Laurie Nowak of Bartlett. West Chicago's Shannon Burns was elected to the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission, making her the first Democrat to serve the commission since it became independent a decade ago.
While DuPage Democrats celebrate last week's victories, Peickert is already looking to the next election.
"We're encouraged by our victories," Peickert said. "We've done a lot of work over the past few years to re-energize the base in DuPage County, and I think it's paid off. But there's a lot more work to be done, so we're already looking at things we can do to build on this momentum."
GOP Chairman: 'We need to examine who we are and what we stand for'
For DuPage County Republicans, the election results are cause for concern, though not entirely unexpected.
"I think there were some things working against us this election," said Darlene Ruscitti, chairman of the DuPage County GOP. "Ultimately, I'm not sure we were able to get our message out there. The Democrats spent a lot of money, and were basically able to define our message for us."
One of the biggest challenges, Ruscitti said, was the redistricting by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) that gave his party an edge in legislative races across the suburbs. Unofficial results indicate the Democrats picked up seven seats in the Illinois House to gain a veto-proof majority of 71-47.
"We were facing unprecedented headwind from that Democratic remap," Ruscitti said. "The redistricting crafted by the Democrats was so precise and strategic, we knew it was going to be extremely tough to overcome."
With the general election behind them, members of the DuPage GOP are already back to the drawing board.
"As a party, I think we need to examine who we are and what we stand for, and what we can do to re-energize the base in DuPage County," Ruscitti said. "We need to look at where we can do better, and also what's working well. I think a lot of it is just about getting our message out there."
As the first ever female leader of the DuPage County GOP, Ruscitti also hopes to break her party's stereotype.
"I think some people think the GOP has turned into the old, white guy's party," Ruscitti said. "But you know what? I'm not old, and I'm not a guy. Our basic principles still hold true for a lot of people, but we need to do a better job connecting."
Ruscitti said she remains optimistic about the party's future in DuPage County.
"There are some setbacks that we need to overcome, but this party has great resolve," she said. "I know that will carry us through."