50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 21. Illinois

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

21. Illinois

Capital: Springfield

Nickname: Land of Lincoln

Motto: State Sovereignty, National Union

About the State

Illinois –  the 25th largest state of the Union and, with more than 12.8 millions residents, the 5th most populous – was once the home of a league of Native American tribes called the Illiniwek Confederation, from whom it gets its name.  As Europeans settled in the East coast, the Iroquois moved further West and pushed the Potawami, Miami and Sauk into Illinois, at the expense of the Illni.  In the early 18th century, the area came under the rule of the French Empire, transferring to British control after the Seven Years’ War, before becoming part of the Northwest Territory when the United States won the Revolutionary War.  On December 3rd, 1818, Illinois became the 21st State of the Union.

In 1832, the Sauk, Kickapoo and Meskwaki tribes attempted to return to land around Chicago they had been forced to give up in a treaty 28 years earlier, but they were defeated in the Black Hawk War.  The settlement of Nauvoo in Southern Illinois was created by the Mormons in 1839, after they had been expelled from Missouri.  Their spiritual leader, and founder of the Church, Joseph Smith, was assassinated by a mob there in 1844 and, two years later, under the stewardship of Brigham Young, the Mormons left Illinois, eventually to settle in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Two of the four candidates for President in the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, were residents of the state and more than 250,000 men from Illinois served the Union forces in the Civil War, the fourth most of any in the North.  No battles were fought there, but there were a handful of prisoner of war camps – most notably at Rock Island – where many Confederate soldiers were held.  There was opposition to the war from a wing of the Democratic Party in Illinois – named Copperheads by their opponents after a venomous snake – and The Chicago Times newspaper acted as their mouthpiece.

During the prohibition era, Al Capone controlled much of the smuggling and bootlegging operations in Chicago, gaining a reputation as being a modern-day Robin Hood through charitable donations, but that was tarnished by his alleged involvement in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, in which 7 people were murdered.  The metropolitan area of Chicago remains the centre of Illinois’ economy, with Boeing, United Airlines and McDonald’s all being based there, as well as several banks and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a major financial futures market.  In the rural parts of the state, agriculture is a major sector and it produces corn, soybeans and other crops – alongside growing the largest number of pumpkins in the USA.  Caterpillar and John Deere, two companies that manufacture farm vehicles, are both headquartered in the state.

There are five “Big Four” sports teams in Illinois, all of whom are located in Chicago: the Bears (NFL); White Sox and Cubs (MLB); Bulls (NBA); and Blackhawks (NHL).   One President was born in the state – Ronald Reagan – but it was the home of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama, who served Illinois in the Senate prior to winning election in 2008.  In 1885, Chicago was the home of the world’s first skyscraper – the Home Insurance Building – and the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) is currently the tallest in North America, but will be soon overtaken by the new One World Trade Center in New York City.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 20

2008 Result: Obama 61.8% McCain 36.9%

Latest Poll: Obama +24%

The Republicans won the state on six consecutive occasions between 1968 and 1988, but Illinois has voted for the Democratic Party’s candidate in the last five Presidential elections.  President Obama is a virtual certainty to win there again this November.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There are no Senate elections in Illinois in 2012.  After the redistricting from the 2010 census, the state’s number of seats in the House of Representatives will be reduced by 1 – down to 18 – starting in 2013.  The current delegation is made up of 8 Democrats and 11 Republicans and six of the eighteen new districts are considered to be in play this November.  The 8th and 17th district are expected to be won by the Democratic Party candidates, while the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th are all considered toss-ups.

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