December 15, 2004


Now that the 2004 election cycle has concluded, and will soon be blessedly forgotten, here’s a final eclectic, irreverent, sarcastic and/or insightful determination of this year’s Best and Worst:

            Best Campaign: Democrat Melissa Bean lost to Republican U.S. Representative Phil Crane in the McHenry-Lake County 8th District by 24,649 votes (42.6 percent) in 2002, but she never stopped campaigning. She shrewdly understood that, to unseat an incumbent, the contest must be about the incumbent. In 2004, Bean defined Crane, a 35-year veteran, as inept, ineffectual and invisible. She ridiculed his lack of tangible legislative accomplishments. She lambasted his numerous foreign junkets. And she criticized his anemic number of trips back to the district. Crane, age 73, failed to heed his 2002 wake-up call. He should have either re-energized himself, and campaigned like a madman, or retired. Instead, he remained complacent.

In the campaign’s final months, Crane tried to paint Bean as a liberal. By then, it was far too late. Bean had already painted Crane as lazy and out-of-touch, and beat him by 9,043 votes (51.6 percent). Bean ran a textbook anti-incumbent race. Bean’s challenge over the next two years is to avoid the kind of voting record that will enable her 2006 Republican opponent to isolate her as a liberal.

Best Campaign/Runner-up: Northwest Side Republican State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) had a tough campaign in 2002, when he beat fellow incumbent Bob Bugielski (D) by 2,583 votes (53.7 percent); he had an even tougher campaign in 2004, when he faced fellow incumbent Ralph Capparelli (D). But, like Bean, McAuliffe campaigned vigorously and attacked relentlessly. In 2002, McAuliffe defined Bugielski as a tax-hiker who lived outside the district. In 2004, McAuliffe defined Capparelli, a 34-year veteran, as a Springfield insider who missed many key roll-call votes and was concerned only with enjoying the perks of his $1 million campaign account. McAuliffe won in 2004 by 7,944 votes (59 percent).

Worst Campaign: Capparelli failed to realize that political longevity does not necessarily insure political popularity. Many of the contemporaries and past supporters of Capparelli, age 80, are dead or have moved away; and many of the residents of the 20th District had only a vague notion of who he is. Capparelli, with a campaign fund of $1 million, should have flooded the district with mailers in May, June and July, heralding his accomplishments. Instead, Capparelli was passive, while McAuliffe bombarded the district with anti-Capparelli pieces in late August and September. Capparelli responded with some lame anti-McAuliffe mailers in early October, but by then he had been negatively defined, and it was too little, too late. The Dean of the House lost.

Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest Campaign: Republican Jack Ryan was once married to sexy Hollywood actress Jeri Ryan. They were divorced her in 2001, and Ryan spent over $4 million of his own money to win the 2004 primary (with 35.7 percent). But, while the 2004 campaign progressed, the Chicago Tribune was suing to get Ryan’s Los Angeles divorce records unsealed and released. When the Tribune succeeded, Ryan’s stupidity was glaring: He was dumb enough to allegedly try to take his wife to sex clubs; even dumber in not disputing that allegation when it surfaced in divorce pleadings; and the absolute dumbest in not anticipating that these revelations would cause his campaign to implode. When they did, Ryan’s campaign was over.

Biggest Knucklehead/Male Category: Maybe it’s just atmospheric pressure, or perhaps it’s the tap water, but Republicans in the Joliet area (75th District) seem to have foot-in-the-mouth disease. In 1994, a Republican state representative opined that a woman’s place was in the home, an idiotic comment which, when exploited by Democrat Mary K. O’Brien, enabled her to beat him. It was déjà vu all over in 2004, when O’Brien retired to run for the appellate court, and the Republican candidate, Morris police chief Doug Hayse, accused his Democratic foe, Careen Gordon, of allowing a sex offender to “walk free” while she worked for the Will County state’s attorney’s office. Unfortunately for Hayse, Gordon had left the prosecutor’s office six months before the offender was freed, and her only involvement in the case was to appear when the two-count indictment was presented.

Hayse’s mailer was dropped ten days before the election, which gave Gordon adequate time to respond. She ripped Hayse’s “smear,” and managed to win what was deemed an unwinnable race by 1,662 votes.

Biggest Knucklehead/Female Category: The north suburban (Glenview, western Wilmette, eastern Skokie) 17th District was designed to elect a Democrat, but is instead represented by a rare breed – a liberal Republican, Beth Coulson. Coulson had won by just 666 votes in 2002 against a non-Jewish male Democrat. Party strategists in Springfield figured that they lost because of the so-called “demographic.” In other words, Coulson would have lost to a Jewish female. So Michele Bromberg, a Skokie trustee, ran in 2004…and ran a woefully inept race. One of her mailers featured photos of Coulson and black Republican Alan Keyes, and claimed that “the Republicans are trying to take away abortion rights.”

The Chicago Tribune editorialized about Bromberg’s nasty campaign, and strongly endorsed Coulson. Bromberg’s theme was summed up in six words: I’m-a-Democrat-and-she’s (Coulson’s)-not. Voters were not impressed, and they summed it up by giving Coulson a 3,849-vote victory, even while Democrats won all other races in the area.

Best Quote: According to a Newsweek story, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, back in May, was exasperated by his failure to gain in the polls. “I can’t believe that I’m losing to this idiot” – referring to President George Bush. So, Senator Kerry, please explain: If you lost to an idiot, what does that make you?  A cretin, perhaps?

Best Quote/Runner-up: In the Illinois U.S. Senate race, featuring two black candidates, Republican Alan Keyes played the “race card.” In his debate with Democrat Barack Obama, Keyes noted that his “heritage” – namely: that he was descended from slaves -- somehow gave him a superior connection to black voters, as contrasted to Obama, whose black father was born in and lived in Kenya, in Africa, and whose mother is a white from Kansas. Obama said he would not debate as to who was “more authentically African-American.”

Just imagine if a white candidate said he was the whitest of white. It would be shades of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. But Keyes’ stance that he was the blackest of the blacks got minimal media notice, and Keyes got minimal votes, losing to Obama by 2,152,820 votes, getting 28.1 percent – the worst showing of any major-party senatorial candidate since 1926.

Best Out-of-Illinois Quote: Oklahoma Republican Senate candidate Tom Coburn called the state legislators in Oklahoma City a “bunch of crapheads.” Voters didn’t take umbrage, and elected him to the U.S. Senate by a healthy margin. Maybe somebody in Illinois can replicate his comment – like calling Illinois’ legislators dingbats, dorkbrains, or, perhaps, slimeballs – and, after being perceived as a paragon of perceptivity, get elected to statewide office. Don’t count on it.

Best Northwest Side Committeeman’s Performance: In the 39th Ward, Committeeman Randy Barnette (D) delivered a 9,055-3,161 vote (74.1 percent) for his nephew-in-law, John D’Amico (D), in the open-seat race for 15th District state representative. Losing Republican Bill Miceli ran a somewhat active campaign. And, in the 50th Ward, Committeeman (and Alderman) Berny Stone, delivered a 13,621-2,231 vote (85.9 percent) for State Senator Ira Silverstein (D) in the 8th District

Worst Northwest Side Committeeman’s Performance: Capparelli, the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, lost his home ward 7,203-12,384 (36.8 percent) to McAuliffe. And, in the 36th Ward, Alderman Bill Banks, the Democratic committeeman, who was “neutral” in the McAuliffe-Capparelli race, lost his ward to McAuliffe 7,196-5,648 (56.1 percent).

Worst Imitation of a Credible Politician: Tom Hynes, Illinois’ Democratic national committeeman, Chicago’s 19th Ward Democratic committeeman, former county assessor (1978-97), and Daley insider, engineered the election of his son, Dan, as state comptroller in 1998. Young Hynes, then age 30, beat a well-qualified Republican by 614,413 votes (58.6 percent); he was re-elected in 2002 by 1,041,441 votes (63.2 percent). That makes him a political powerhouse, right?

Wrong. When Young Hynes ran for U.S. Senator in 2004, he finished an anemic second to Obama, garnering just 289,505 votes (23.7 percent), to Obama’s 642,305 (52.7 percent). Utterly lacking in charisma, young Hynes is now looking for less combative horizons to conquer. Don’t be surprised if Hynes runs for his dad’s old job, assessor, in 2006.

The Best of the Dullest:  Illinois’ senior Senator, Dick Durbin, has all the charisma of a cardboard box. But Illinois is the kind of state that elects a Democrat unless the Republican is of exceptional quality. Durbin’s foes in 1996 and 2002 were not exceptional. Now Durbin, bland and equivocating as he is, has risen to the Senate’s Democratic leadership, as minority whip. That’s because the vociferously anti-Bush Democratic leader, South Dakota’s Tom Daschle, got beat, and the bland Whip, Nevada’s Harry Reid, moved up to leader. So, the bland are leading the beaten.

Durbin’s ascension may or may not be fortuitous. He will be assigned the responsibility of assembling Democratic votes against the Bush/Republican position. Kerry won Illinois with 55 percent (2,678,811-2,155,313). So being the Senate’s number-two Bush-basher may not be politically detrimental.

Worst Denial: If you lose once, it’s a setback. If you lose twice, it’s a message to find another calling. And if you lose thrice, it’s a testimony to one’s inability to perceive reality. Jim Oberweis lost his bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2002 and 2004. Go back to selling ice cream. John Cox lost bids for the Republican nomination for Congress (2000) and Senator (2002), and lost the 2004 election for Cook County Recorder. Get a life.