Oberweis defeat only adds to Hastert’s legacy

Oberweis spokesman Bill Pascoe said their campaign did not expect to lose to Foster.

“I think everybody was surprised. We did not see it coming,” Pascoe said.

Northwest Herald news article, March 9, 2008

There is a goldmine of observations to be made as a result of yesterday’s special election in the 14th Congressional District, and the news is already filled with them. For some of us in Illinois this is an old story, since we’ve been reading this headline for years: “The district was formerly a Republican stronghold but is now up for grabs.”

There are a lot of people who would ascribe this to “demographics,” and though writers on this website have addressed this previously, we will again in the coming days. Suffice it to say for now that the notion that tens of thousands of Democrats are moving into Illinois is truly nutty.

People are voting for Democrats because Republicans have not been offering a compelling message in this state for many, many years. Worse, when Republicans held power, they governed more like Democrats.

One commentator has suggested that Chris Lauzen, who lost the primary to Jim Oberweis last month, is partly to blame because instead of endorsing Oberweis he remained silent. That argument doesn’t make sense. During the campaign Oberweis said Lauzen had been corrupted by the Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan political culture. In light of that, Lauzen’s endorsement could’ve only hurt Oberweis, not helped him.

Some of us have been diagnosing this IL GOP disease for a long time. We’ve also been offering a number of excellent prescriptions. With perennial candidate Jim Oberweis losing to first time candidate Bill Foster, there is hope that more rank and file Republicans will now be willing to take the medicine.

As a resident of the district I can attest first hand that Team Hastert and Team Oberweis pulled out all the stops. Denny Hastert even quit the post early to give Jim an advantage. Millions of dollars were spent from Jim’s pocket, the Republican National Committee, and the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Oberweis had some big name endorsements. Just this past week I received a mailer featuring former Governor Jim Edgar, and I received an automated phone call with a message recorded by former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

Our hapless Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna was also heard from during this special election, and now he has yet another defeat to chalk up on his growing list of failures.

Anyone familiar with what we’ve been writing on this website for the past few years wasn’t at all surprised that this could happen. Some Republicans might not have realized how bad things were for their party, but yesterday has brought more people up to speed.

Four years ago we began to send up warning flares about the leadership failures of Dennis Hastert. We acknowledged that people liked him, but noted that politics can’t just be about veneration.

If this were business then a profit would be measured. If it were professional sports, there would be a win loss column. Today’s politics must be about moving public opinion and accomplishing reforms. If it’s not, then the public won’t vote for Republican candidates no matter how many big names endorse them.

And in the absence of substance, candidates like Barack Obama emerge.

Losing elections isn’t the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to win power and then fail to use it to move an agenda, build a record of results, and create a culture that draws good people into the political process.

And when there’s no “bench” built, you wind up with millionaire candidates who would not be considered for any office if they didn’t have their own large bank accounts to draw from to fund a campaign.

We’ve seen it for years: we win elections and lose ground. During the past couple of decades Republicans around the country have done fine on election day, they just haven’t followed through often enough and demonstrated success in governing.

Losing yet another Congressional District in Illinois is a sad indictment of our Republican leadership.

Up next: Beyond commentary and analysis and getting to the cure.