Work and family are at the center of our lives, the foundation of our dignity as a free people.

-Ronald Reagan

Election night in Illinois was not a good one for Republicans as Democrats swept all of the statewide elections and increased their numbers in both the Illinois House and Senate. The Democrats now have super majorities in both chambers.  

The traditional Republican strongholds in the suburbs flipped to the Democrats as two suburban Congressional Republicans lost their elections and several Illinois House and Senate Republicans also lost elections in the suburbs.

The lone bright spot in Illinois was the rural districts. For instance, the only gain for the Illinois House Republicans was the 118th District in the southernmost part of the state. Republican Patrick Windhorst defeated incumbent Natalie Phelps Finnie. In my own race, I won with 76 percent of the vote. Clearly, rural Illinois is solid ground for Republicans.

One of the reasons rural Illinois has become strong Republican territory is because working class voters continue to move toward the Republicans. President Donald Trump’s policies have helped to give working families hope for the first time in a long time. I attended an event at a steel plant in Granite City earlier this year and hundreds of workers were there celebrating the fact that they were working again.

But the once solid Republican suburbs are no longer the Republican strongholds they once were. It used to be that Republicans in places like DuPage County simply had to put their names on the ballot and they would win their elections. This is not the case anymore.

Analysts across the country are saying the same thing: Republicans must find a way to win back the suburbs if they are going to be successful.

This is easy to say but quite another thing altogether to accomplish. How do Republicans maintain their advantage with working class voters and appeal to suburban voters?

The first step is to recognize why Republicans are losing in the suburbs. It is easy to point to President Trump as the problem. Certainly, there are many voters in the suburbs who find his demeanor and Tweeting distasteful but let’s be honest, what is happening in the suburbs has been a trend long before Donald Trump became president of the United States. President Trump may not be helping suburban Republican candidates, but he is not the architect of their demise.

Many have speculated that the thing to do is to run more moderate candidates but if being a moderate is the key to electoral success in the suburbs then why did so many moderate candidates lose? State Senator Tom Rooney lost his race AFTER voting for gun control legislation. He ran as a moderate and lost while a much more conservative candidate for the Illinois House, Tom Morrison, won his race in the same Senate District. There is more at work here than moderate candidates versus conservative candidates.

The question, we must be asking is why did the voters who pay some of the highest property taxes not just in Illinois but in the nation vote against their own financial interests to support Democrats who are going to do nothing but raise their taxes even more? If these voters were being logical – they never would have voted the way they did.

So, what is driving their votes?

Elections are about building connections with voters. In many ways, Democrats have done a better job in the suburbs of appealing to voters’ emotions and building connections that translate into votes. Republicans keep showing up with charts and graphs and trying to explain to suburban voters why it is in their best interest to vote for candidates who will lower their taxes.

What Republicans must do is go on the offensive and show how the Democrats’ policies are hurting families. We need to tell the stories of people who have left Illinois because they can’t afford to live here and use those stories to build emotional connections with suburban voters. The charts and graphs are not working.

It is time for Republicans to go on offense and focus on the basics. As Ronald Reagan said, “Work and family are at the center of our lives, the foundation of our dignity as a free people.” We can be both the champions of workers who just want the opportunity to have a job and the champions of families who are suffering under bad economic policies that are hurting our state. There is a path of keeping rural voters and winning back the suburbs and it will start once Republicans stop apologizing all of the time and start going on the offensive. The message of work and family have a universal appeal.