In the news today, a literal Nazi will be on the ballot as the Republican candidate in Illinois’ 3rd district this fall. Not because actual Republicans support him, but because Illinois’ laws around primaries enabled the crackpot, a man named Arthur Jones, to get on the ballot with a mere 603 signatures, according to CNN. which also reported that the state Republican organization is now trying to come up with a work-around, such as declaring a write-in candidate to be the “official” Republican candidate.
That this is even an issue is a consequence of this district being deemed a “safe” district, so completely in the Democrats’ hands that it’s not even worth attempting to contest it. This is the seat of Chicagoan Dan Lipinski, who ran unopposed in 2016 after the Republicans were successfully able to remove Jones from the ballot after his first attempt at contesting this election and no other Republican filed in the primary. In 2014, he defeated his GOP opponent 65% to 35%. Incidentally, the shape of this district is the outcome of a Democratically-orchestrated gerrymander, with a solid Democrat core in the city and then extending out to sparsely populated areas to the southwest of the city to render their GOP votes useless.
And this is not the only district where incumbents run unopposed, so I thought it would be instructive to look at the districts via Ballotpedia.
1st district: heavily Democrat; Bobby Rush won with 74% of the vote in 2016 and 73% in 2014, but in both cases faced Republican opponents.
2nd district: Democrat Robin Kelly won with nearly 80% of the vote in 2016 and 2014, in both cases facing Republican opponents.
4th: Democrat Luis Gutierrez, known for his district connecting two heavily Hispanic areas together with a strip of interstate 294, was unopposed in 2016, and took nearly 80% of the vote against his Republican opponent in 2014.
5th: contested elections with strong Democratic margins. Note that in 2016, there were no Republican candidates in the primary; presumably someone stepped up later on.
6th: heavily Republican but contested.
7th: even heavier Democrat margins than the 2nd district.
8th: safely Democrat but contested.
9th: heavily Democrat (66%) but contested.
10th: a true battleground district which flipped from GOP to Dem in 2016 (due in no small part to massive advertising)
11th: safely but moderately Democrat, contested.
12th: safely but moderately Republican, contested.
13th: safely but moderately Republican, contested.14th: safely but moderately Republican, contested.
15th: heavily Republican, uncontested in 2016, and 75% of vote in 2014.
16th: heavily Republican, uncontested in 2016, and 70% of vote in 2014.
17th: safely but moderately Democrat, contested.
18th: safely Republican but contested.
Now, I’m not going to go into a discussion of the gerrymandering involved in these districts, but instead observe that two were uncontested with Republican incumbents, and two with Democratic incumbents, but others, despite their massive margins one way or another, still had candidates willing to put forth the effort. Were these lost-cause candidates fringe, candidates, perhaps not quite grounded in reality? Did they hope, in whatever way, to make a contribution? Were they “real” candidates with connections to their claimed political parties? Did they just want to see their name on the ballot? I don’t know.
But the conventional wisdom is apparently that it is political suicide to run for office in a no-hope district, as much as you’d think it would be the opposite, a way of paying your dues, by demonstrating to your party that you’re willing to step up, as a non-crackpot, to represent the Republican party in a Democratic district, or vice-versa.
And at the same time, here’s something I honestly don’t know: is a state party apparatus allowed to recruit candidates for a given district, or must it depend on individuals to declare their candidacy on their own? After all, the whole point of the primary election is to end backroom deals for party nominees, isn’t it? I mean, sure, unofficially, the party bosses do this all the time, but can one say of this instance, “the Republican party had the obligation to field a candidate to insure that it didn’t end up with a Nazi on the ballot claiming to be a Republican”, or is this just the bad luck of no one stepping forward, maybe even thinking they were “safe” while Jones quietly collected his signatures and turned in his petitions at the last minute?
UPDATE: the Tribune this morning confirms that Jones indeed did submit his petitions on the day of the deadline, Dec. 4th, 2017 — which means that journalists were asleep at the wheel, for this to go unreported until yesterday.
The Tribune also blames gerrymandering:
Lay part of the blame on gerrymandering, which creates districts that overwhelmingly favor one party.
But gerrymandering isn’t really a culprit here — after all, the gerrymandering process made this district less Democratic, not more, taking what would have been a “natural” district that would have been virtually all Democratic, and, as I wrote above, adding into it a fair bit of suburban voters to render their Republican votes useless. That this is a safe Democratic district is due simply to the concentration of Democrats in large cities; lay the blame, if you wish, on the socioeconomic segregation of cities. But consider, too, whether political parties should be empowered to reject candidates from filing as representing that party — if not in all cases, then by some sort of appeals process that says, “this dude goes against all the values expressed our platform.” And, beyond that, it would also fall into the category of “a good thing to do” for political parties to reward those who run in lost-cause districts, rather than, as conventional wisdom has it, punish them.
Image: from Pixabay (public domain), https://pixabay.com/en/republicans-elephant-political-party-303843/