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TODAY

Thursday, May 23

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Airbags

Last year, an unknown man in Texas made a ludicrous statement: "I'm going to beat Tom DeLay."

The guy who uttered that statement, Richard Morrison, was practically laughed off the podium. But he ran a spirited campaign, energizing the grassroots, netroots and probably some beet roots in order to come within slapping distance of the man dubbed "The Hammer" by his admirers and "Douchebag" by me, forcing DeLay to return to his home district to campaign, thus sapping his ability to campaign and raise money for other Republican congressional candidates. Ultimately, the odds were too great, but Morrison pledged to run again.

So imagine his surprise when he found out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the Democrats' House caucus — chaired by Chicago's own pitbull Rahm Emanuel — was courting a big-money candidate from a nearby district who spent more and performed worse than Morrison did. Morrison was stunned, and turned to his grassroots supporters for help in what may have turned out to be a bloody primary — in the end, Morrison pulled out of the race for personal reasons. Although Morrison denied it, the Democratic Party establishment's abandonment must have accelerated his decision to pull out of the race.

In our own state, as Morrison was waging war on DeLay, Melissa Bean, a charismatic, moderate Democrat from the 8th Congressional district was going after a deeply conservative do-nothing relic, Phil Crane, for the second time. In 2002 her campaign against Crane garnered her nearly 44 percent of the vote, putting her within striking distance of the wildly unpopular Crane. Similarly, a west suburban businesswoman and Democrat, Christine Cegelis, was taking on Henry "Youthful Indiscretion" Hyde, the monumental hypocrite who presided over the Clinton impeachment, later admitting it was partially "payback" for the Democrats' hearings on Richard "Actually Committed a Crime" Nixon.

Bean's campaign got little help from the DCCC initially, as they waited to see just how viable she was in a very Republican district. Still, Crane was clearly vulnerable and with the base Bean had built in 2002, they let her do her thing, unlike their attitude towards Morrison. When it became evident that she was indeed gaining momentum, the DCCC pitched in and helped her fight off a late cash infusion Crane received from their Republican counterparts, the RNCC. All of the attention on Bean's campaign meant that Cegelis' candidacy, which was polling surprisingly well, was not prioritized. Nevertheless, Cegelis won 44 percent of the vote in her first outing against Hyde, and she pledged to run again in 2006, to finally oust the DuPage troglodyte.

Then things got tricky. Hyde announced that he would not seek a bazillionth term, perhaps preferring to retire to his sitting room to listen to the Victrola (he's old, ya see). So this time around, Cegelis won't have the advantage of framing the campaign around Hyde's out-of-touch-ness, or his myriad bizarre or out-of-touch policy positions, or even just his straight up antiquity. Make no mistake: Cegelis is a compelling candidate with good politics and the moxie to win. But the lack of a polarizing figure like Hyde, whose popularity in the district has been steadily slipping since his prominent role in the Clinton impeachment as well as rumored participation in the explosion of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba in 1899, makes the political landscape much more treacherous.

A number of Republicans have emerged to compete for the seat, preeminent among them state Senator Peter Roskam, a radical right conservative who once worked for Tom DeLay. Roskam recently won the endorsement of the DuPage County Republican Party chairman, which all but cements him as the man to beat.

In the face of this uncertainty, the DCCC appears to be giving Cegelis the Morrison treatment, making overtures to Peter O'Malley. This is very unfortunate; although Cegelis doesn't have the advantage Melissa Bean had in facing the same unpopular candidate twice, she does have a considerable base in a very difficult district for Democrats. Yet the trends seem to be in her favor: popular approval of congressional Republicans has dipped to the mid to low 30s, and notoriously Republican Schaumburg Township went to John Kerry by a considerable margin in 2004. It would be a terrible waste to throw the party's resources behind another candidate, forced to build a volunteer network, a base voter profile, and name recognition for scratch. Cegelis, starting with nothing, mounted an impressive campaign that will be remembered by constituents in a new fight against a fresh face.

Of course, this is not to discourage anybody from running — by all accounts, O'Malley is a solid candidate with good politics, and having choices is the cornerstone of democracy. We can only hope that the Party does not pick a horse too early in this one and try to push Cegelis aside.

Still, for any Democrat the campaign will be a fight without Hyde there to polarize the electorate. After all, witness this wildly irresponsible and embarrassingly frank comment from Republican state Senator Kirk Dillard:

"This is a Republican district," Dillard said. "Congressman Hyde is far too smart to have drawn a tossup or a swing district for himself."

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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