Friday, July 9, 2010

IL-02: New Battleground

IL-02 is represented in Congress by Jesse Jackson, Jr. This district has not sent a Republican to Congress for decades.

Yet the Republican party has a new standard bearer in this district: minister and community activist Isaac Hayes. A former Democrat, Hayes is making a play for Jackson's seat by hitting Jackson on one of the areas where he may be most vulnerable: ethics. As Kyle Stone writes:
But with Jackson making headlines more recently as "Senate Candidate No. 5" and allegations that his supporters offered to pay then-Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate, Hayes sees his opening. And while Jackson's role in the Blagojevich scandal remains unclear, he has not escaped unscathed. Named one of the fifteen most corrupt members of Congress by the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Hayes is rightfully making Jackson's integrity gap a campaign issue.
Hayes's campaign is wisely staying away from a lot of national hot-button rhetoric and is focusing on a few key talking points: "Integrity in Illinois," "Jobs and Small Business Investment," "Parental Choice in Education," and "Safe Neighborhoods."

By reframing conservative notions about personal responsibility, decentralization, and civic opportunity, Hayes may be able to break through conventional dogma about Republicans in his district. For example, in his response to the the Supreme Court's overturning of the Chicago gun ban, Hayes argued that this ruling will provide increased protection to families and private property.

Consider Hayes's discussion of improving the business environment:
The role of government is to create the conditions to spur innovation and sustainable economic growth. Due to a lack of real leadership, Illinois is 48th in job creation, ahead only of Massachusetts and Ohio. We need a trickle-in economy that reduces the barriers to producing goods and services, stimulates investment in business infrastructure and equity markets, and provides business training, seed capital grants and support to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch a microenterprise. Congress must work to free up the credit markets so that families can once again finance a new home, a new car, or a college education for their kids. It is time to get America moving again and that starts by helping families through these tough times. Families like those in Ford Heights which has a 53% poverty rate.
This is a very pro-growth message, but one tailored to the conditions of many poor communities in IL-02. Note that here Hayes is not talking about how it's the government's job to create innovation or economic growth, but to create the conditions for innovation and growth.

Hayes's swipe about the "lack of real leadership" clearly plays to anti-incumbency sentiment. Hayes's continued focus on ethical issues may also appeal to voters tired of the Congressional status quo; he even embeds these issues in his web address (

A Hayes victory here would certainly be hard-fought. But some polls do show scandals taking their toll on Rep. Jackson.

And whether or not Hayes wins in 2010, a strong Hayes showing would be the first step in restoring Republican standing in IL-02. In 2008, Jackson won with nearly 90% of the vote. As Republicans seek to rebuild the party, they should do their best to increase their appeal in this kind of heavily-Democratic districts. The current political paradigm may be shifting, so the GOP should make the most of the opportunity of 2010. If a Republican could get even 30% of the vote in this heavily African American district, that could lay the groundwork for a stronger Republican showing in 2012 and beyond. A short-term expenditure here could lead to long-term favorable outcomes for the GOP.

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