Like usual, Madison County Democrats enjoy significant advantage in fund-raising over their GOP counterparts this election year. But what's different in 2012 is a nearly full slate of Republican candidates stepping up to challenge incumbents up and down the ballot.
Of the six county-wide seats up for grabs, all are contested – chairman, state's attorney, circuit clerk, recorder, auditor and coroner – compared to four years ago in which only the Madison County Board Chairman seat featured a Republican contender.
And for the first time in modern history, the balance of power on the County Board – currently 19-10 Democrat to Republican - is in play. All 29 board seats are up for election; 16 of them are contested, compared to just seven county board competitive races of 16 on the ballot in 2008. Six Republican and seven Democrat county board members are running unopposed this year.
Madison County GOP chairman Andrew Carruthers said the upcoming election is the first since redistricting and as a result he expects the balance of power to shift on the County Board.
"We are presented with a rare opportunity to compete for more seats and win a majority on the county board," he said.
"Our precinct committeemen have over doubled in number since the primary and all are fully engaged in assisting at least one of our candidates, if not more."
Then there are the hot judicial campaigns to watch: Four circuit judges – Ann Callis, Barbara Crowder, David Hylla and John Knight –must garner at least 60 percent of the "Yes" vote in retention races to stay on the bench.
The vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Romani pits Associate Judge Kyle Napp, a Democrat, against Hamel attorney Tom Burkart, a Republican, in the Third Circuit. And in the high stakes Fifth District Appellate Court race, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn, a Republican, faces attorney Judy Cates of Swansea, a Democrat.
In 2008, there were no bench contests in Madison County. Two circuit judges ran unopposed – Democrats Richard Tognarelli filled the vacancy of former Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron and Dennis Ruth filled the vacancy of former Circuit Judge Edward Ferguson. At the Fifth District, unopposed Democrat James Wexstten was elected.
In addition, state House and Senate seats that were unchallenged in 2008 are battlegrounds this year: Republican Kathy Smith is taking on Democrat incumbent Dan Beiser in the 111th House District and Republican Mike Babcock is challenging Democrat incumbent Bill Haine in the 56th Senate District.
A review of campaign finance records at the Illinois State Board of Elections shows that contributions into local Democratic coffers greatly outweigh their Republican counterparts.
In recent days, the Madison County Democratic Central Committee has received $129,100 in campaign contributions - the bulk of which came from the Simmons firm of Alton and 19 of its attorneys.
Other recent contributors to the Madison County Democratic Party include Citizens for Dunstan, $10,000; Friends of von Nida, $10,000; Friends of Faccin, $5,000; Johnston Law Office of Edwardsville, $1,000; Short & Smith of Wood River, $1,000; and Dave Galanit of Bethalto, $1,000.
By comparison, the Madison County Republican Central Committee as of Sept. 19 showed no fund-raising activity since July 1. In a quarterly report for the period ending June 30, the committee listed $730 in non-itemized contributions. It also showed $8,841.81 on hand.
Carruthers downplayed the disparity in fund-raising.
"I would not equate the ability to raise over $100,000 with one phone call to overwhelming support for our opponents," he said. "Fortunately, and as our candidates proved in 2010, the ability to raise large sums of money from a small number of individuals and corporations does not equate to wins at the ballot box."
Madison County Democratic Chairman James Stack, Jr. has been contacted for comment, but had not returned a phone call by press time.
Carruthers said people in Madison County "are tired of business as usual."
"In 2010, our party proved it is a force in Madison County and without raising and spending a fortune," he said. "The county itself is changing politically. And as our newly elected officials have proven, when the voters elect Republicans into county government they are electing fiscally conservative individuals who will act as good stewards of taxpayers' money."