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Biden Adds Illinois To List Of Midwestern Primary Blowout Wins

Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois.
Gage Skidmore | NPR, Flickr
Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 Illinois Democratic Primary. The Associated Press called the race for Biden at 7:23 p.m., shortly after the polls in Illinois closed.

Biden won the vast majority of Democratic voters in the Metro East, capturing between 60% and 70% of the primary vote in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Washington and Clinton counties.

Detailed county totals won't be available until individual precincts report their results overnight, but the call by the AP mirrors what happened in Missouri one week ago. Biden is poised to carry every county in the state if he performs like he did in Missouri and Michigan, which is not unlikely, said John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. 

See our live blog for NPR analysis of races in Illinois, Florida and Arizona.

“The pattern for us will look a great deal like Michigan last Tuesday night,” he said. “The similarity between us and Michigan is striking. [Illinois is] another big urban, manufacturing and agricultural state.”

Of voters in the Metro East, Jackson said black voters have been traditionally strong in Belleville and St. Clair County. Madison County voters have shifted more to the right, but there are still many Democrats in the area, he added.

“The white voters on that side have tended to be strong union people,” Jackson said. “The kind of blue collar workers that supported the Democratic Party. Those voters are more likely to support Joe Biden this time.” 

This year’s race differs greatly from the 2016 primary, when Sanders came within two percentage points of defeating Hillary Clinton.

“She was expected to win, however she did not win by as wide a margin as expected,” Jackson said. “It was a bit of a surprise Bernie Sanders did as well as he did being the insurgent candidate.”

Low voter turnout and high early voting amid the coronavirus outbreak

Concerns over the coronavirus kept some Illinoisans from turning out to the polls on Tuesday, said Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections. 

“Turnout has been very, very low,” he said. “The first indication came from the city of Chicago.” 

Chicago Board of Elections commissioners reported about 10,000 people voted the first hour the polls were open, Dietrich said. 

“Normally, even in a low turnout primary, the city of Chicago would expect to see 30,000 voters in that first hour of voting,” he added.

On average, about a third of Illinois residents vote in primary elections, but that number might be half that for today’s primary, he said.

“Before coronavirus, I would have said there’s no question that we’re going to be above average,” he said. “There was probably a decent chance that we would have matched what we saw in 2016, which was 47%. I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to see either of those.”

And locally, the same pattern played out.

“I can tell from early voting the numbers are depressed from coronavirus,” St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook said. 

The outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, changed how many Illinoisans voted. In the last weeks, officials strongly encouraged residents to vote early.

“I think voters heard that call, and we saw a spike especially in the days leading up to the deadline for applying for a mail ballot and the deadline for early voting,” Detrich said. “It’s natural that we would see a little bit of growth with this election, but nothing like what we’re seeing in these huge numbers.”

Nearly 600,000 people voted early in person. 130,000 mail-in ballots had been returned by the beginning of Tuesday, he said. That’s way up from 2016 when 420,000 people voted early and 84,000 voted by mail.


This post will be updated throughout the night. Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.