Putnam County: Illinois' Political Bellwether

Want to know who will win the governor’s race in November between Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner?

Forget the polls. Watch Putnam County.  It’s the smallest county in the state in geography with a population of 5,800 and an unusual knack for picking the winner.

“As the vote goes in Putnam County, so goes the state,” said Democrat and Putnam County Clerk Dan Kuhn.

It’s not just that they pick the winner, the winning percentage in Putnam County mirrors the winning percentage statewide.

In the 1998 governor’s race when George Ryan defeated Glenn Poshard, Ryan won 51% of the state vote.  He won Putnam County with 49.3%.

In 2002 Rod Blagojevich beat Jim Ryan statewide with 52% of the vote. Putnam County voters gave Blagojevich 51%.

Four years later it was eerily similar with Blagojevich winning 49% statewide over Judy Barr Topinka.  Putnam County voters backed Blagojevich with 46% of the vote.

The only hiccup was four years ago when the losing republican---Bill Brady--- beat Pat Quinn in Putnam County. Voters, according to reporter Ken Schroeder of the Putnam County Record could not get past Quinn being a part of the Blagojevich administration.“He was part of that regime,” Schroeder said, “that’s more than likely why the first time around against Brady, no, they didn’t take him.”

This time around the governor’s race is---so far--- quite quiet, taking a back seat to local race for judge.

“Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody’s talking about the governor’s race,” said Alma Toedter, the Republican County chair.

Dan Kuhn, the Democrat, agrees.  “I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm about the governor’s race,” he said.
The reason says Schroeder is simple.  “There is very big resentment against Chicago politicians or rich politicians,” he said sitting on the steps of the 175-year old county courthouse. “Neither one plays real well in Putnam County.”

There are a few more Democrats than Republicans in Putnam County, a split of 58-42 says the county clerk.
Neither Governor Pat Quinn nor his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner has visited the county during this election season.

If either came here they would find this part of the state in trouble.

“I would say the biggest issue right now is unemployment,” said Denise Boggio, owner of Boggio’s Orchard a destination for visitors buying pumpkins, visiting a corn maze or stocking up on apple cider donuts.

The latest unemployment rate in the county is 7.8%, a full point higher than the state average.

The county’s largest employer, a steel mill closed, in 2009 and with that 600 jobs disappeared and disappointment has lingered.

Alma Toedter says voters tell her there is bi-partisan discouragement.  “I think they are so fed up with the one we have now and then the other one he’s got so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it all,” she said, adding,  “So I don’t know how this is going to go. I really don’t."

Both Toedter and Kuhn predict their respective guy will win in part because people here will go to the polls next month the way they always do.

In the March primary 46% of registered voters in Putnam County cast ballots compared to just 16% in Cook County.

“That’s one of the things about Putnam County, people do get out and vote,” Dan Kuhn said.

Or as Alma Toedter put it: “If you don’t vote don’t complain afterwards that your guy didn’t get in or he’s not doing a good job.  You vote, then you got a right to b*tch.”

Source: NBC Chicago