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Trump, Biden win Illinois primaries as they gear up for a rematch

Donald Trump and Joe Biden won the Illinois presidential primaries Tuesday.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden won the Illinois presidential primaries Tuesday.

Eliciting an electoral ho-hum from voters, Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump notched lopsided wins Tuesday amid one of the worst voter turnouts for a Chicago presidential primary since at least World War II.

The Associated Press took 15 minutes to declare both candidates winners after the polls closed.

Tuesday’s results offered only bragging rights to the candidates after decisive primaries last week in Georgia, Mississippi and Washington state made both Biden and Trump the presumptive presidential nominees for their respective parties.

Tuesday’s outcomes set the stage for the summer political conventions in Chicago and Milwaukee and a fall general election rematch, where Illinois appears tilted heavily in Biden’s favor based on historic benchmarks. No Democratic presidential candidate has lost the state in a general election since 1988, when former Republican President George H.W. Bush defeated former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Neither candidate campaigned in Illinois ahead of the state primary. And Trump was the only one to extend any political capital here with an endorsement of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost in the heated, down-ballot congressional primary in far southern Illinois against failed 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey.

In that primary, with Bost leading 53%-47% with 81% of the votes counted, according to AP estimates, Bailey conceded defeat.

Trump also survived a challenge to his place on Illinois’ primary ballot. A group of five voters and a national voting rights group persuaded a Cook County judge to order him off the ballot on grounds his activities during the fatal Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol ran afoul of the 14th Amendment.

But the local judicial ruling was upended by the U.S. Supreme Court days later. A unanimous court held that individual states did not have authority to render a federal candidate ineligible under the 14th Amendment.

The national narrative involving Trump and Biden has centered on two widely unpopular candidates, each facing potentially consequential pockets of strife within their own parties.

Tuesday’s Illinois vote hinted that some voters here wanted alternatives, and some voters appeared simply to have tuned out.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the presidential campaign earlier this month, was on Illinois’ GOP presidential ballot, as were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who both folded up their tents in January.

In early voting, Haley drew 14% of the vote among Illinois Republicans, while DeSantis had 2.8% and Christie 1.6%.

In some vote-rich suburban areas, the anyone-but-Trump voting bloc also was evident, suggesting possible weakness for the GOP candidate in an electorally significant part of Illinois’ voting map. In DuPage County, for example, Trump’s Republican opponents accounted for more than 35% of the vote with a third of votes counted, according to AP estimates.

In other GOP primaries since Super Tuesday, the combined anti-Trump vote topped 40% in two states and eclipsed 30% in four others.

Biden, meanwhile, has faced headwinds from within his party over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Palestinian and Muslim activists called on Democratic voters to either leave the presidential choice on the ballot blank or write in “Gaza” to protest Biden’s handling of the war effort. State election officials, however, said write-in ballots will be counted only for official write-in candidates, leaving Biden’s overall raw vote total as the only potential measurement of the protest’s effect.

In Michigan, more than 101,000 Democratic primary voters chose not to support Biden. Tens of thousands more in Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and North Carolina did so as well.

Democratic primary voters in Illinois didn’t have a similar “uncommitted” means to display any possible ambivalence toward Biden.

Chicagoans seemed to recognize their votes didn’t matter or were expressing their dissatisfaction with the choices when it came to the day’s marquee political contest. They stayed away from polling places in droves, with voter turnout at 20% as of 7 p.m.

That percentage would be the lowest in any presidential primary in the city in at least 80 years, city election board data showed. Chicago turnout was 38% four years ago and 54% in the 2016 primary.

With 75% of votes counted, Biden carried 91% of the vote, according to AP estimates, easily eclipsing the combined low single-digit totals amassed by other Democrats on the primary ballot, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson and Frank Lozada.

On the GOP side, Trump stood at 81% with 83% of votes counted, according to AP estimates, less than his romp in 2020’s largely noncompetitive primary when he received 96% of the vote. In 2016, Trump won an 11-way primary in Illinois with 38% of the vote.

Dave McKinney, state politics reporter at WBEZ, spent 19 years as the Chicago Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief with additional stops at Reuters and the Daily Herald. His work also has been published in Crain’s Chicago Business, the New York Times and Chicago Magazine.
Jon Seidel covers federal courts for the Chicago Sun-Times.