McLean County didn’t see a blue wave or a red wave on Election Day.
Democrats did knock three incumbent Republicans off the McLean County Board. But Republican County Clerk Kathy Michael soundly defeated her Democratic challenger by 8,000 votes, and Republican incumbents won all U.S. House races and General Assembly seats from Bloomington-Normal.
McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard said she was disappointed to see statewide candidates like Gov. Bruce Rauner and Erika Harold lose. But she said Michael’s win over Nikita Richards—who outraised and outspent Michael—was a bright spot for local Republicans.
“The fact that we overcame that is a testament that it takes more than money to win an election. It takes a caliber of candidate such as we had in Kathy Michael,” Beard said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “As Republicans in McLean County, we’re not going anywhere.”
Supporters hoped Richards would become this red county’s first Democratic clerk. She would’ve also been a rare black elected official in McLean County, following in the footsteps of Normal Town Council member Chemberly Cummings and Bloomington alderman Mboka Mwilambwe.
But Richards won only 43 percent of the vote. She lost Bloomington by 863 votes.
“Nikita was an incredible candidate,” said McLean County Democratic Party chair Erik Rankin, also a departing member of the McLean County Board. “What I think it says is that this county still has some issues with people of color. And I’m concerned about that.
“I hope that people will be able to listen to the candidates for the feelings that they have, for the positions that they stake out, and attach themselves to those specific feelings, rather than vote on identity politics. That is something the Republican Party has very clearly staked (its) claim to.”
Democrats picked up two seats on the McLean County Board, cutting the Republican majority to 13-to-7. (Unlike city councils, County Board elections are partisan.) Rankin predicted Democrats would win the majority outright in the 2020 election, or at least get to an even 10-10 split.
“Every change requires baby steps,” Rankin said.
Rankin said he was pleased to see five new faces joining the McLean County Board, including Democrats Shayna Watchinski, Sharon Chung, Logan Smith, and Elizabeth Johnston, as well as Republican Lindsay Bloomfield. Chung is believed to be the first Asian-American ever elected to the McLean County Board. Smith is a 19-year-old student at Heartland Community College.
“It shows a different side of the McLean County Board that’s sometimes very sorely overlooked,” Rankin said.
Beard said it will likely take the newcomers some time to have significant influence.
“It will be interesting to see if these new candidates who have very little experience in the real world of business and development and government will have much of an impact,” she said.
Both Rankin and Beard took over as party chairs earlier this year. They replaced longtime Democratic Party chair John Penn and former GOP chair Chuck Erickson, respectively.
You can also listen to GLT's interview with Beard:
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