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Illinois Newspaper Reporters Gauge Political Climate Ahead Of Primary


Everybody has been talking about Florida and Ohio voting on Tuesday, but those are not the only primaries next week. Important developments could come out of North Carolina, Missouri or Illinois.


NPR recently did an analysis and looked at Illinois as the primary voting started. And it found that it looks more like the country as a whole, actually, than any other state in terms of education, religion, age and so on. So to get a sense of how voters there see the choices before them, we've called not one but two longtime political reporters in different parts of the state. They're both named Mike, so bear with us.

SHAPIRO: Mike Riopell is the political editor at the Daily Herald, which is right in the Chicago suburbs. This morning, his paper endorsed John Kasich on the Republican side, and the paper endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. Mike Fitzgerald reports for the Belleville News-Democrat in Southern Illinois. His paper has not made endorsements. Welcome, both of you.

MIKE FITZGERALD: Good day, how are you?

MIKE RIOPELL: Thanks for having us.

MCEVERS: And we know, of course, that Illinois's a very diverse state. We've got Chicago, the third-largest city in the country in the north. And, Mike Fitzgerald, what issues matter most to voters in the southern part of Illinois?

FITZGERALD: Well, it's like elsewhere around the country, jobs is the main issue. We are losing more jobs at a greater rate than almost any other state with the exception of West Virginia. Last year, we lost over 14,000 manufacturing jobs. In addition, the coal industry, because of President Obama's stepped up enforcement of the Clean Air Act, is also suffering some pretty tough times. So a lot of coal-mining jobs have been lost as well.

SHAPIRO: Dramatic job losses, coal-mining jobs - Mike Riopell, I'm guessing that up in the Chicago suburbs those may not be the top concerns.

RIOPELL: Certainly, the economy is but coal mining isn't. You have a lot of talk about taxes - property taxes, income taxes. People there, especially in the Chicago suburbs where there's a lot of property value - people are always talking about property taxes. So you have sometimes a willingness to support anti-tax type candidates.

MCEVERS: Presidential candidates are visiting Illinois now. Ahead of the primary, Hillary Clinton is there today. Others came yesterday, more come tomorrow. Mike Fitzgerald, what parts of the candidates' messages are resonating with your readers who are closer to St. Louis than they are to Chicago?

FITZGERALD: Well, that's a really interesting question. People want to see a candidate who has some answer for reversing the slide of jobs. I don't see the anger, though, as we find in other parts of the country. I don't see any strong movement for Donald Trump. Now, when Bernie Sanders came to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville last week, he drew a very enthusiastic, excited crowd. And as Bernie has said repeatedly, his main issue is trying to protect the vanishing middle class, and that seems to resonate with a lot of voters.

SHAPIRO: Mike Riopell, your state has some things in common with the states where John Kasich does well, and yet Donald Trump is leading in the Republican polls there. What do you think is going on?

RIOPELL: Well, John Kasich also has a lot in common with our Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. He's a mid-Western governor who likes to talk tough against especially public employee unions. But Donald Trump has a lot of widespread appeal.

SHAPIRO: What do you think it is about Trump's message in Illinois that voters there are responding to that is giving him the lead in polls?

RIOPELL: Well, I don't know if it's any different than in any other state. People are frustrated with politicians. They're certainly frustrated with politicians here. I think the question is can the so-called establishment who just a couple years ago, elected Bruce Rauner to power in a state that often leads Democratic - can it beat this voter distaste that's led to Trump's rise?

MCEVERS: You've both covered elections in Illinois before. What's different this year? And, Mike Fitzgerald, we'll start with you.

FITZGERALD: Well, I guess the, you know, thousand-pound elephant in the room is the impasse in the Illinois General Assembly. We have a...


FITZGERALD: ...Classic battle between a Democratic leadership in the State House versus a Republican governor who came in to clean house, in other words, especially with the budget. So we have a budget that's eight months overdue. That's resulting in deep cuts, bone-deep cuts, in fact, especially when it comes to education. Local universities are suffering in particular. You know, people feel extremely angry and helpless about this.

SHAPIRO: And Mike Riopell.

RIOPELL: Well, I think one thing that's clearly different is that people are excited here that Illinois actually matters in the Republican primary. And on the Democratic side, you have Hillary Clinton - born in Chicago, grew up in the suburbs. And Bernie Sanders went to college for a few years in Chicago as well. So eight years ago, the legislature here moved up the primary so that we'd matter in the Democratic primary. This time, we legitimately do with no actual changes. And I think that's excited a lot of people.

MCEVERS: Without having to move it at all. That's Mike Riopell. He's the political editor at the Daily Herald in the Chicago suburbs.

SHAPIRO: And Mike Fitzgerald reports for the Belleville News-Democrat in Southern Illinois. Thanks to both of you.

RIOPELL: Thank you.

FITZGERALD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.