Another day, another Republican whining about “Chicago-style politics”:
Narrator: “Why is Cheri Bustos running a Chicago-style false attack ad on Bobby Schilling?”
Steve Ballard: “You forgot where you came from.”
Narrator: “But we know where this guy’s from. Bustos is using party bosses posing as local workers.
Hank Gray: “Why does Cheri Bustos have to go to Wrigley Field to raise campaign money? This is her district—here—not Chicago.
Randy Gebhardt: “Cheri Bustos is a tax-raiser. Like Bobby, I’m fed up with Washington.”
Jerry Schreiner: “What sets Bobby Schilling apart is that he’s one of us.”
Lori Rotz: “Leads by example. Go Bobby!”
Bobby Schilling: “I’m Bobby Schilling and I approved this message.”
Okay yeah I get it, you’re outside Chicago ergo Chicago is a scary hellhole full of racial minorities (who vote, no less!)* where it’s okay for women to run for public office. A vote for this lady is a vote for idling dumptrucks to roll into your small Real American town and…just sit around doing nothing. Or something.
But here’s the thing: can you please let everyone in Chicago know that “Chicago-style politics” = running good-looking ads attacking your opponent? Because there is actually a Chicago style of politics, and it has driven me crazy ever since I entered professional politics. It amounts to doing literally nothing and claiming that your fictitious GOTV operation will somehow carry you over the top, usually based on an ethnic population that left city limits long ago.
Let’s take for example, Aurelia Pucinski, who ran a hilariously bad and classic Chicago-style operation all the way to a third place finish. She hit all the sweet spots of the style:
A famous last name no one actually cares about. Pucinski is the daughter of Chicago Alderman Roman Pucinski. Yeah, I don’t know anything about him either. Google him or something. The point is, you’re not alone. No one in Chicago knows or cares either. I was in elementary school the last time he was in public office.
Appeals to ethnic nativism. Related to the idea that name ID is omnipotent is the theory that Chicago is constantly on the verge of some sort of balkanized civil war with any given ethnicity voting with ironclad regularity against all others. Pucinski is Polish, you see, and there are a lot of Poles in Chicago. There are two problems with this theory. 1) It’s wrong, and 2) There aren’t actually that many Poles in Chicago. There aren’t even that many white people in Chicago.
Help from a BIG SCARY POWERFUL alderman who doesn’t actually do anything. Pucinski’s campaign was just the latest in a seemingly neverending string of failures who got covered because she was “supported” by the almighty king of a crappy southwest side ward, Ed Burke. I’m sure Burke has many fine qualities. Spending any significant amount of his (large) campaign fund on behalf of anyone is not one of them. This may be because his committees were grandfathered out of the law that said Illinois politicians could no longer just cash out their campaign funds to themselves. It may not. Either way it’s no small blessing for a Chicago campaign to be opposed by Ed Burke. It is a very good sign your opponent is an exercise in unintentional hilarity.
Switching parties to run against a black person. Every once in a while some Chicago Democrat decides that lack of success/advancement in elected office is not a sign of being a failure at campaigning and at life and instead means that the Democratic Party is in the tank for black people (because really, why would a successful political party pay any attention to a city’s plurality race?). So we get temporary Republicans. Pucinski took her turn at this strategy in 1998 to run against then-Cook County Board President John Stroger. She eventually switched back after realizing that doesn’t work very well.
Not spending any money. Campaigns are not special, or unique. They are just advertising runs with a hard expiration date. That costs money. Except, apparently, in Chicago. Pucinski spent just $60,000 for her failed Supreme Court run. By contrast, the winning candidate, Mary Jane Theis** spent $1.3 million. In the Chicago media market, that is actually a pretty small campaign. These things cost money, because EVERYTHING that works costs money. There is no magic substitute. The theory in Chicago usually goes, in consideration of the above tactics, that a GOTV operation makes up for a total absence of paid persuasion. It doesn’t. You can’t get out a vote that doesn’t exist, and without persuasion votes don’t exist.
So please, Republicans outside Chicago, tell the Democrats IN Chicago that our styles should be closer to what you’re running against: well-funded operations that hire professionals and put convincing ads on television. Our campaigns might actually scare you then.
*BTW, wrong stadium for that insinuation.
**A client of Third Coast Research, and perhaps coincidentally an excellent Supreme Court Justice.