Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2012, 5:12 pm

Democrats savor wins, look ahead to 2014

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Doug House
Democrats in Rock Island County cleaned up in this year's election, winning back almost everything they lost in 2010, and party officials are looking to cement those gains in the next election.

Democrats have performed strongly in presidential elections in Rock Island County for decades, but they sometimes struggle to turn out the vote in mid-term elections.

In 2010, the party lost the 17th Congressional District and former State Rep. Mike Boland's old District 71 seat. They also watched Republicans pick up three seats on the Rock Island County Board.

This year, Democrats reversed most of those gains.

Mike Smiddy took State Rep. Rich Morthland's District 71 seat, and Cheri Bustos defeated U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona.

Democrats also fought off Republican challenges to seats held by State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, and State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.

Mr. Smiddy provided one of the biggest upsets of the night. He lost narrowly in Rock Island County to Rep. Morthland, but won in parts of the district that cover Whiteside, Henry and Carroll counties to secure his victory.

"I went to some parts of the district that, frankly, our party had forgotten about," he said. "We built a strong organization, and it worked out in the end."

Republicans did pick up one seat on the county board, for a total of five seats. But Democrats swept to victory in all of the county office elections while retaining a strong majority on the 25-member county board.

The 2012 election was the first with Doug House at the helm of the Rock Island County Democrats. He took over from Steve Ballard as party chairman in April.

Before the election, Democratic supporters and candidates "were wondering what was the direction of their party and if they were the next chicken in the lot that might have their head cut off," Mr. House said.

The losses in 2010 and, in particular, former U.S. Rep. Phil Hare's defeat, had left a mark.

"We have a recent loss and a recent scar to remind us of what can happen if we should ever let our guard down again," Mr. House said.

In the end, he said a disciplined and organized ground game that led to big turnout of Democrats helped the party's candidates ease to victory.

Turnout was definitely critical," he said. "When we get our people out to vote in Rock Island County, Democrats get elected."

His thoughts have turned to 2014 and ensuring the victories of 2012 are sustainable.

"The way I intend to proceed is the same way a business or a city would proceed. I'm going to have strategic planning," Mr. House said. "I'm going to sit down and talk about the different areas and where we did well and where we had some shortcoming."

The number of Republican and Democratic votes in the presidential election was down in Rock Island County compared to 2008.

President Obama won 39,081 votes this year, compared to 42,210 in 2008. Republican nominee Mitt Romney secured 24,888 votes, compared to the 25,364 ballots cast for John McCain four years ago.

But turnout for Democrats still was massively up compared to 2010, while remaining relatively steady for the GOP. Democrats only turned outabout 22,000 votes for Mr. Hare in 2010 in Rock Island County, compared to the 23,000 votes Republican challenger Bobby Schilling received.

Richard "Quijas" Brunk, of Moline, was one of the party's 2012 successes that gives the party hope for the future. A young, first-time candidate, he beat Republican David Cox in Rock Island County Board district 13.

He attributed his win and those of other Democrats to old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning.

Mr. Brunk said he walked all around his district knocking on doors, sometimes more than once, to put his argument across.

"Actually being able to present verifiable facts was important," he said. "I put a lot of solid information out there and let people know how they could check it."

Despite all the talk of the ground game, tactics and turnout, the races up and down the ballot ultimately were decided on the issues, said Dino Leone, vice president of the Quad City Federation of Labor.

Democrats, Mr. Leone said, were on the right side of issues that labor households care about, such asprotecting Social Security and Medicare and closing tax loopholes for companies that send jobs offshore.

"We really educated our members about what the issues were and how they affected their lives and their families," he said.

The labor vote is substantial in Rock Island County, with Mr. Leone estimating it makes up about 40 percent of the Democratic vote.

He said labor volunteers worked hard canvassing across the county to turn out that vote.