Many inner-ring suburbs, within Cook County, have become Democratic. But even in farther reaches such as DuPage County, which has sent very conservative Congressman Henry Hyde to the US House since 1975, Democrats are starting to have a presence. Two Republican house seats in the suburbs, Mr. Hyde's and Phil Crane's, are considered in contention this fall.
In Cook County - where those inner-ring suburbs are concentrated - the trend is even more extreme. In 1996, the suburbs accounted for just 25 percent of the Cook County Democratic primary vote. By 2004, it was 37 percent. The upshot: Al Gore enjoyed a stunning 40 percentage point spread over George W. Bush in Cook County. Four decades earlier, in another tightly fought race, John F. Kennedy's margin over Richard Nixon there was 9 points.
Demographic change accounts for part of the shift, with newer arrivals including Hispanic immigrants, middle-class workers, and professionals from more liberal states. But many moderate Illinois voters have also become increasingly disenchanted with a Republican Party they see moving away from them on social issues. The result is an emerging Democratic bloc that is often fiscally conservative - antitax, for instance - but culturally more liberal.
"As the national Republican Party has moved farther to the right, especially on issues like choice and guns.... They have lost many mainstream Republicans who are turned off by that kind of position," says Michael Mezey, a political scientist at De Paul University in Chicago.
Luvie Myers is a case in point. She's the mother of three teenagers, the wife of a consultant, who's lived most of her life in Winnetka, an upscale suburb on Chicago's North Shore. Throughout the 1980s, Ms. Myers was a Republican, voting twice for Reagan and for the first President Bush. "He was a class act. Patrician, sensible, educated, very experienced in government - a lot like someone who would live in Winnetka," she says.