Shifting political winds in Illinois a nationwide trend?

The steady erosion of support for Bush’s ultra-right policies led the Kerry campaign earlier this summer to expand the list of potential “swing states” it believed to be competitive. Now there are indications that some congressional races once thought to be uncompetitive are in play too.

The Democrats need to pick up 12 seats in the House of Representatives and two seats in the Senate to break the Republican majorities. The most recent polls show 48 percent favoring a Democratic Congress compared to 44 percent supporting a Republican one.

“We are seeing a perfect storm beginning to develop,” Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), the House Democratic Campaign chair, said recently. “Voters believe the country is going in the wrong direction.”

New developments in Illinois reflect an erosion of support for Bush and the ultra-right Republican policies. While Republicans have already written off a victory for Bush in Illinois, many moderate Republicans here are increasingly alarmed by the potential for a cascading effect in the U.S. Senate race and congressional races.

A deeply divided Illinois GOP took six weeks to select a replacement for Jack Ryan in the race against Democrat Barack Obama for the open U.S. Senate seat. Ryan dropped out after a sex scandal became public. Potential replacements withdrew because they didn’t think they could beat Obama. A progressive state senator who spoke out against the Iraq war, Obama drew national attention with his landslide primary victory. He would become only the third African American since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

The selection of ultra-right African American commentator and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes reflects a deepening crisis for the Republican Party. Republicans were badly whipped here in 2002 when Democrats won all but one of the statewide races. Bitter differences between ultra-right and moderate wings of the state Republican Party erupted after that election and have never healed. Keyes, who doesn’t live in Illinois, was the candidate of the ultra-right wing and religious fundamentalists, and his selection shows that they hold the upper hand for the moment.

In choosing Keyes, the Republicans are exposing their racism. They will hide behind Keyes to launch vicious attacks against Obama. The Republican campaign undoubtedly will seek to divide and confuse voters through demagogic appeals for a ban of gay marriage and abortion, and elimination of affirmative action. Some moderate Republican leaders are openly noncommittal on Keyes, having concluded that an ultra-right platform will not win and may even hurt other races.

Other developments indicate Illinois voters are growing increasingly disenchanted with the ultra-right Bush policies. Two long-time right-wing Republican incumbents in traditionally Republican suburban Chicago congressional districts are now facing competitive races — Reps. Henry Hyde in the 6th CD and Phil Crane in the 8th CD.

Recent polls in Crane’s district show only 36 percent would vote for him. The race is being tracked as one of the nation’s most competitive. The Republicans are so concerned that they have gone into emergency mode and are targeting Crane’s campaign for special help.

Crane’s opponent, Melissa Bean, opposed him two years ago and received 43 percent of the vote. Bean, a small business consultant, has the support of the labor movement, women’s organizations, environmentalists and several large newspapers. She was recently added to Emily’s List, which gives contributions to progressive candidates in competitive races.

Hyde, who led the charge to impeach President Clinton, is opposed by Christine Cegelis, an Internet consultant and former member of the Communications Workers of America. Cegelis opposed the Iraq war, and supports a single-payer universal health care system and the Apollo Project jobs program advanced by labor and environmentalists.

The suburban “collar” counties around Chicago, including DuPage County, the traditional center of Republican power in the state, have been changing politically. In the primaries, Obama received more votes in the suburban counties than Ryan, the Republican victor.

Voting shifts reflect the growing influence of working class, Latino and African American voters. But they also indicate that moderate Republicans are increasingly rejecting the party’s extreme right-wing policies.

Ultra-right candidates for president and Senate could be a real drag for the Republicans and spur defeats down the ballot in Illinois. The growing anti-ultra-right coalition, now mobilizing for a massive vote for Kerry and Obama (in Illinois), should take a fresh look at the new possibilities to inflict even more defeats.



John Bachtell is district organizer of the Communist Party of Illinois. He can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.