February 4, 2004


State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) is known in Springfield, particularly among his House Republican colleagues, as the "Lean, Mean Walking Machine." Democrats, while respecting McAuliffe's physical stamina, derisively refer to him as the "Stairmaster Candidate."

Nevertheless, in the Internet age, McAuliffe is a throwback to an earlier era. While contemporary candidates spend hours raising money and communicate with voters by television ads, e-mail and U.S. mail, McAuliffe spends hours knocking on voters' doors and communicating with them personally.

There can be no doubt that McAuliffe's approach has been a remarkable success. In 2002 he faced a difficult contest against a fellow incumbent, Democrat Bob Bugielski. He knew that the organization of Alderman Bill Banks (36th) would churn out a heavy vote for Bugielski in its area, and he knew that he had to carry his base, the 41st Ward, by a margin larger than Bugielski got in the 36th Ward.

So, beginning in June, McAuliffe walked door-to-door in precincts every weekday from 4 to 8 p.m. and every weekend day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., often accompanied by his ally, Alderman Brian Doherty (41st). His goal was to talk to at least 50 voters per weekday and 100 per weekend day, meaning he had to knock on 250 to 500 doors to meet those targets. McAuliffe says that during the 5-month period through the November election, he lost 15 pounds, knocked on an estimated 25,000 doors and made contact with nearly 8,000 voters.

Every personal contact received a follow-up letter from his office within 2 days, received additional mailings and was asked to place a McAuliffe sign in their front yard. Those evidencing support were placed on McAuliffe's "plus list," received pre-election phone calls reminding them to vote, and were assigned to election day volunteers whose job it was to get the pro-McAuliffe voters to the polls.

The sedate Bugielski, who had undergone heart surgery earlier in 2002, relied entirely on precinct captains and mailings. The energetic McAuliffe's strategy obviously was superior: He had adequate funding from Springfield Republican sources, he had eight districtwide mailings, including two devastating attack pieces on Bugielski, and he simply out-worked and out-walked his opponent. In the 41st Ward, where McAuliffe spent so much time, he topped Bugielski 10,188-6,109 (62.5 percent); Bugielski won his 36th Ward base 6,840-4,350 (61.1 percent). The aggregate result in those two wards put McAuliffe up by 1,589 votes. In Norwood Park Township, where McAuliffe also walked precincts, he won 2,949-2,126, a margin of 823 votes. Overall, with votes from a few precincts in other wards included, McAuliffe triumphed by 2,583 votes (53.7 percent).

The Stairmaster candidate beat the couch potato candidate. McAuliffe literally walked his way to victory in 2002, and he presumed that he wouldn't have to replicate his efforts ever again. He was wrong.

Doherty, whose 2002 precinct walking was geared as much to his own re-election campaign as to McAuliffe's, easily won his fourth term as alderman in 2003 with 73 percent of the vote. But it will be back to the past -- and the precincts -- for McAuliffe this year, and the Northwest Side's "walking machine" is already operational.

McAuliffe, age 40, is the 41st Ward Republican committeeman, and he is being challenged for that post in the March 16 primary by former state senator Walter Dudycz. In the November election, state Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15), a 34-year veteran of the General Assembly who lives in the 20th District, chose to let his buddy Bugielski run there in 2002. Capparelli instead won the 15th District seat in 2002, but he is running in the 20th District this year. Capparelli is the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, and he has nearly $1 million in his campaign account. "I'll outwork them both," McAuliffe promised.

Here's a look at both races:

41st Ward Committeeman: It's a matter of micro-politics versus macro-politics. McAuliffe, who has been the ward's committeeman since 1996, said he is running for re-election because "I've done my job" and "made (the 41st Ward) the most Republican ward in Chicago." Dudycz, age 53, who served in the Illinois Senate from 1985 to 2002, is running because he wants to be the Chicago Republican chairman and a party spokesman, and he can't do so unless he is a committeeman.

McAuliffe, at the micro-political level, notes that the 41st Ward is the only ward in Chicago with a Republican alderman (Doherty) and that in 2002 Republican candidates for governor (Jim Ryan), attorney general (Joe Birkett) and state treasurer (Judy Baar Topinka) won the ward. George Bush lost the ward to Al Gore in 2000 12,951-11,292, a margin of just 1,669 votes. From a micro-political psychological standpoint, McAuliffe cannot afford to lose this race to Dudycz. In fact, he must win by at least 60-40. If McAuliffe just squeaks by or loses, it will undermine the perception that he can beat Capparelli.

At the macro-political level, there is no question that the Republican Party in Chicago and Cook County is virtually defunct, and Dudycz blames that on county chairman Maureen Murphy. Murphy is a Board of Review commissioner and the Worth Township (Oak Lawn) committeeman. "She has abdicated her responsibilities and done nothing to build the party," Dudycz said. "The 2004 (county) slate is an embarrassment."

Dudycz promised that if he is elected committeeman and then city chairman, he would  "vigorously criticize Democrats like Blagojevich and Daley and hold them accountable for their actions. Where is the Republican message?"

Dudycz said that he has the ability to "articulate a Republican message," that he would bring back a county convention to choose candidates, and that he would have a county Republican fund raiser with a name speaker such as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and divide the proceeds among the wards, based on the tickets that they sell. Dudycz also said that he would go to college campuses and other forums to debate Democrats, that since he is now retired, he would be a full-time chairman, and that he would "get people active, especially young people" in party politics and "build a farm team" of future candidates.

'I told Michael (McAuliffe) that if he retired and let me be committeeman, I would make him the (ward) president, let him pick the election judges, and let him manage the organization finances," Dudycz said. "He refused."

"There are no more Republicans to kick out (of office)," Dudycz added. "We must start now to build for 2006."

Unlike McAuliffe, Dudycz has no plans to go door-to-door. "I will rely on my record of working for the party," he said, adding said that he will have at least four direct mailings.

The outlook: Dudycz's prospects of being city chairman, if elected committeeman, are virtually zero. Clark Pellett, an ally of Topinka, has locked up the post. That obliterates Dudycz's rationale for running.

The Republican voter pool in the 41st ward is not gigantic. In 2000 just 2,249 votes were cast in the Republican primary (to 9,111 in the Democratic primary); turnout was 3,528 in 1996 and 2,772 in 1992. Without a 2004 presidential race to spur interest, turnout on March 16 will be under 2,000, and 2,000 voters means about 1,300 households.

"I'm already on the street," McAuliffe said. He expects to visit three-quarters of the Republican households by primary day. "I tell them why I'm running and what I've done," he said. "I tell them who I'm running against. Most of these (Republicans) supported me in the past, and I'm confident they will again."

McAuliffe expects to have five mailings, and he recently sent out a state legislative questionnaire. "(Voters) know who I am," he said. He has an Edison Park office with Doherty and County Commissioner Pete Silvestri, and he said that "people know that they get good service when they call."

My prediction: Turnout will be about 1,800, and McAuliffe will top Dudycz by 1,100-700.

State Representative (20th District): Capparelli had two primary opponents, but both Frank Coconate and Mike Marzullo withdrew, so he is unopposed. Both also had filed against Capparelli for Democratic committeeman, and both also withdrew from that race. Primaries are often a window to the future: If a candidate doesn't win convincingly, he or she has problems in the election.

The outlook: Capparelli, age 79, is 2004's couch potato candidate. He won't be knocking on any doors, and his ward organization is, at best, skeletal. McAuliffe intends to replicate his 2002 labors. My early prediction: McAuliffe's "Walking Machine" will beat Capparelli's "Money Machine."