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Suburb shift turns state blue

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Henry Kranz used to consider himself the Alex Keaton of his West Side Chicago family, the only Republican in a house full of Democrats. His first time at the ballot box, he voted for Republican Dick Ogilvie for governor. [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Kranz's name.]

Today, Mr. Kranz is more Toby Ziegler of "West Wing" than the Keaton character portrayed by Michael J. Fox. He and his wife joke about being "Swedish socialists" when they discuss issues like high CEO salaries. His top concern is healthcare, and he's a confirmed pacifist.

Still, Kranz - who used to run a small press and sponsor poetry readings, and now works with nonprofits to encourage charitable giving - doesn't think all the change has been his. Back when he voted for Ogilvie, it was because he valued the idea of "treading lightly on individual freedoms." It's a notion he still agrees with, but which he thinks the Republican Party has drifted from. He abhors proselytizing and has "real trouble with being my brother's keeper."

While there's no archetypal Illinois voter, Kranz's political journey is in some ways emblematic of the direction his state has gone. For decades, it was the classic swing state, voting for the winning presidential candidate 22 of 25 times in the 20th century. It went for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. From 1976 to 2002, Democratic mayors in Chicago were balanced by GOP governors in Springfield.

But lately, the state has grown steadily more Democratic and is no longer considered in contention in presidential politics. Voters went for Al Gore over George Bush by a surprising 12-point margin in 2000. Now, it's just one more US state that has left the middle ground, the Midwest's lone blue state in a Thomas Hart Benton landscape of purple and red.

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