Donald Trump’s victory may have stunned some, but not everyone.
Even in Illinois, the only old Rust Belt state that went for Hillary Clinton, some were sensing a strong undercurrent for Trump.
“I talk to a lot of people in my position,” said Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar, referring to conversations with other mayors. “One out of 50 was voting for Clinton. The vast majority were going to vote for Trump, but they weren’t going to talk about it because Clinton’s supporters were so vocal.”
Claar was an open Trump supporter who threw a fundraiser for the candidate and was a Trump delegate at the Republican convention. But, Claar said supporting Trump could bring on a backlash that many wanted to avoid.
Clinton won Will County with just less than 50 percent of the vote compared with Trump’s 44 percent. But Trump got almost 130,000 votes, and not all those voters were quiet about who they were supporting.
Will County Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, said one question he faced frequently as he campaigned door-to-door was how he was voting for president.
“Not everyone wanted to talk,” Balich said. “But when they did, usually they said, ‘Are you for Trump?’ ”
Balich was. But even the party establishment didn’t want local candidates to talk about Trump, he said.
“The establishment Republicans were saying, ‘We can’t win Illinois. Don’t talk about Trump,’ ” Balich said.
Signs of support
Balich not only talked about Trump, he passed out 350 Trump campaign signs because people wanted them.
Balich started out with 100 signs he bought from the Will County Republican Party, which obtained them from the Trump campaign. After passing out the first 100 signs, he said, “I went back and got another 200. I passed all those out. I went back and got another 50 and passed them out.”
There was speculation that Trump would hurt local Republicans by being on the top of the ballot.
But in the days before the election, Will County Republican Party Chairwoman Kathy Havel said she expected Trump would help local candidates, noting the high demand for signs.
“I thought he helped a lot,” Balich said of his campaign in District 7, which saw him re-elected. “But I didn’t run away from him. I don’t know what other people did.”
The local elections were fairly status quo in contrast to Trump’s surprise victory on the national stage.
Will County Republicans picked up one seat on the County Board.
Gloria Dollinger of Joliet won a spot in District 10 now held by a Democrat who did not run for re-election.
Dollinger said Trump was not a topic in her campaign in the largely Democratic district.
She said her involvement in the community played a more important role in the victory.
“I know a lot of people on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “I personally know women who are pretty strong Democrats, and they were giving me their vote.”
Having a known name and being the only woman on the ballot in District 10 probably helped Dollinger more than Trump being on the top of the ticket.
But Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said he believed Trump did generate votes for Republicans that cut into margins of victory for some Democrats, even though they may not have turned races around.
Walsh was among four Democrats to sweep the races for countywide offices on Election Day.
Walsh said he was concerned by Trump’s staying power in the campaign.
“All day yesterday,” Walsh said Wednesday, “I was nervous about the presidential election, because after all his mistakes and statements and blunders that he pulled and comments that he made and other issues, there was still a huge support for him, and it unbelievably came true. It catapulted a lot of people to vote.”
While Trump lost by a large margin in Illinois, his presence on the top of the ballot may have helped Republicans pick up four downstate seats in the state House, Walsh said.
Walsh said Clinton, despite her big margin in Illinois, did not seem to have much of a coattail effect for other Democrats down the ballot.
“It seems like everybody made the decision that they had enough of politics as usual as far as the Clinton family was concerned, and Trump seemed to be able to tell people what they wanted to hear,” Walsh said.
A Trump presidency
Now, Walsh said, Trump is going to have to deliver as president.
“He made it sound like it was as easy as turning a doorknob,” Walsh said.
Just what a Trump presidency will deliver will be interesting to see.
“I’ve been contemplating that,” said John Greuling, chief executive of the Will County Center for Economic Development.
Will County officials are pushing for federal funds for highway improvements, particularly to accommodate the expanding distribution industry in the area. Clinton and Trump both promised infrastructure spending.
“Trump maybe more than Clinton talked about a huge infrastructure program,” Greuling said. “On the surface, it seems that the Trump policy on infrastructure would align with what we have going here. I don’t know how much of it will be real. I guess we’ll see.”
State Rep. Mark Batnick, R-Plainfield, said that a Trump a presidency could break through the political gridlock in Washington, D.C., by appealing to interests of both Republicans and Democrats.
“I think there’s a real opportunity to focus on some common sense issues that appeal to the middle and not the extreme,” Batnick said. “I am hopeful that’s the kind of path he drives through. From a policy standpoint, he’s certainly not on the far right. He has the opportunity to be a centrist president. Whether that happens or not, your guess is as good as mine.”