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Former LaHood chief of staff on why the predicted red wave 'clearly didn't happen'

Brad McMillan.jpg
Collin Schopp
Brad McMillan, executive director for Bradley University's Institute for Principled Leadership and Public Service and a former Chief of Staff for Congressman Ray LaHood, has more than 30 years of experience in Central Illinois politics.

Several key races nationwide are still being determined as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the U.S. House and Senate, but the 2022 midterm elections are coming to a close with Republicans still looking to take control of the House by a slim margin.

Brad McMillan, director of Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership and Public Service and former chief of staff for former Congressman Ray LaHood, said the so-called red wave predicted by political pundits “clearly didn’t happen.”

“One was the abortion issue, I think became very important to a lot of voters after the US Supreme Court decision and Dobbs,” he said. “I also think they didn't predict well the number of young voters that were going to show up at the polls.”

McMillan said younger voters, roughly the 18-29 age group, likely don’t bother responding to polls, making it difficult to create an accurate prediction of the voting block’s impact.

“I don't know how you fix that,” said McMillan. “But the polls aren't as good of a predictor as they used to be.”

There were several notable races in Illinois that McMillan thinks young people played a big part in. One was the 17th Congressional District race, where Democratic political newcomer and former weatherman Eric Soreson beat Republican Esther Joy King by more than 8,000 votes.

“He won Peoria by 4,801 votes. So, Peoria played a very significant part in the outcome of that race,” said McMillan. “And we're going to analyze it next week. But I personally believe Bradley students played a big part. I know there were long lines of Bradley students outside of the two precincts on election day.”

McMillan also thinks recent redistricting played a role in Democratic victories in Illinois.

“If you look closely at the 17th District race, Eric Sorenson won Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, Rock Island and Rockford,” said McMillan. “But the rural counties went strongly in favor of Esther Joy King. So it really split along urban-rural in the way that played out.”

He said the 91st Illinois House District race between Sharon Chung and Scott Preston also was affected by redistricting.

Democrats also won a majority of statewide races, which McMillan said is expected because Illinois is a “strong Democratic state.”

“All the statewide office offices are going to continue to be held by Democrats. The Democrats will continue to have super majorities in both the Illinois Senate and in the Illinois House,” he said. “So, the reality is the political demographic, or political landscape in Illinois did not change much after this election.”

In order to start winning more statewide elections in Illinois again, McMillan thinks Republicans need to nominate moderate candidates.

“I personally think that, you know, you need to nominate candidates like (former Illinois Gov.) Jim Edgar,” he said, “who are more moderate, more middle of the road.”

McMillan cities moderate Democrat Laura Kelly, who won the gubernatorial race in Kansas by a margin of 1 percent, as an example.

“Kansas is a red state, but her message was, 'I'm bipartisan. I work well with both parties. I get good things done,'” he said. “And at the end of the day, that message resonated.”

McMillan also pointed to examples like 73rd District state Rep. Ryan Spain, a Republican, who he said maintains a bipartisan working relationship with Democratic state Rep Jehan Gordon-Booth.

“They work across party lines to get good things done for the Peoria area,” he said. “That's the kind of leadership that I think people respond well to. So yeah, I think I think the Republicans can nominate candidates that would have a better chance statewide.”

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.