Oberweis Defeat a Victory for Change?

Democrat Bill Foster’s victory over Republican Jim Oberweis in Saturday’s special election in Illinois is evidence of the clamor for change in the countryside? Perhaps.

Are exurban Chicagoans disgusted with Washington? Yes, they are.

But there were some uniquely local factors that were more decisive.   

This was Oberweis’ fourth run for high office since 2002. Over the past six years, he has turned in more stale, lackluster, straight-to-video performances than Matthew McConaughey.

The dairy magnate’s gaffe-filled campaigns have demonstrated one thing clearly: he has exponentially more personal wealth than good sense.

He burst onto the scene in 2002 running for the U.S. Senate by comparing pro-lifers to the Taliban. Oberweis was endorsed by then House Speaker Dennis Hastert in that campaign, as he was in the congressional race just concluded. He lost the primary.

In 2004, he ran for U.S. Senate again and egregiously overplayed the anti-illegal immigration sentiment, even among GOP primary voters, with a now infamous ad that would have made 18th century Know Nothings blush. He was also fined by the FEC coming out of that cycle for a thinly veiled attempt to run television ads paid for by his dairy to benefit his campaign. He lost the primary.

In 2006, he ran for Governor and was in the ethical soup once again for using fake newspaper headlines attributed to real newspapers in his television ads. He also got whacked during that cycle for allegedly and hypocritically hiring illegal aliens to clean some of his dairy stores, a charge that re-appeared in the election concluded on Saturday. He lost the primary.

Subsequently, he ran ill-fated, intraparty campaigns for both state party chairman and county chairman in his home county. He withdrew from both contests when it was clear he could not win.

In the 2008 race to succeed Hastert, Oberweis ran a bitter primary against 14-year incumbent State Senator Chris Lauzen. He won the primary but engendered lingering vitriol from Lauzen and his supporters. Lauzen refused to endorse Oberweis—admittedly this reflects poorly on Lauzen as well. As such, some conservatives inclined to be less than enthusiastic about Oberweis to begin with became outright hostile. This translated, at least in part, to the underwhelming GOP turnout on Saturday.

Additionally, Oberweis mucked it up again in the waning days of this latest campaign by taking a quote from Foster grossly out of context in a television ad he ran. Oberweis was properly excoriated by the Chicago Tribune among others who have seen his act before.

So consider this candidate Oberweis in a state in which every constitutional officer is a Democrat, the two legislative leaders are Democrats, and the two U.S. Senators are Democrats.   

And consider this candidate Oberweis in a district, admittedly GOP leaning, that the third most powerful man in the world, Speaker Hastert, a 20-year incumbent, won only 60-40 two years ago against a no-name Democrat with 1/17th of the funds Hastert had at his disposal (and thus could not afford retail media buys).

In spite of the Obama ads and the dominant dogma of change, this congressional race between the blunder-prone Oberweis and the excruciatingly humorless (wait until he gets to Washington, you’ll see what I mean) Bill Foster was a decidedly local matter.

Senator Dick Durbin did his best to nationalize the race and cleverly divert voters’ attention away from this inconvenient reality saying of the Foster victory, "It tells me that voters are ready for a change. They want new leadership in Washington.”

And, of course, who knows more about change than the number two man in the U.S. Senate, a 25-year congressional incumbent? Since Durbin is up for re-election in November perhaps change should include his departure.

While Beltway insiders may spin Foster’s victory as one for the change insurgents, it is in fact most clearly a win for the Democrat establishment that has had increasing command control of Illinois over the past decade.  

Regardless of what ultimately happens in November, the Oberweis loss then is much less a harbinger of the future for the nation than it is an indicator of the present in Illinois.