In a year when Republicans aim high to take back the Congress, it seems they haven't forgotten about fighting the more onerous battles as well, especially in Chicago. Meet dark horse candidate Isaac Hayes.
No, not the baritone master of soul "Isaac Hayes" -- but the South Side congressional candidate waging a serious campaign against Chicago's Democratic machine. Hayes is the Republican congressional candidate in Illinois's 2nd district. The 2nd, composed of a majority of black residents since the 1960s, last elected a Republican in 1950. Its current representative, Jesse Jackson, Jr., has served since 1995, enjoying seven landslide reelections. But residents of the district are not alone in permitting liberal-laced Kool-Aid to run through their veins. Long constrained by the Democratic political noose, the Windy City has been appallingly inhospitable to Republicans, and ground zero for conservative irrelevance -- or so one might think. Hayes, however, is part of a growing contingent of vocal Chicago conservatives. A 36-year-old reverend who grew up in the troubled Chicago community of Woodlawn (he's black, just in case you were wondering), Hayes is not without his own South Side biography. As an ordained minister at the Apostolic Church of God (the location of Obama's 2008 Father's Day speech), his duties range from delivering theological homilies to teaching rehabilitative strategies to local gang members. A lifelong Democrat, Hayes woke up from his geographical and ethnic indoctrination in 2006, converting to the GOP after an ideological epiphany. Akin to the famous expression, Hayes recognized the insanity of perpetuating liberal policies and expecting different results.
He observed the dismal graduation rate for his district's high-schoolers (around 50%), as well as a complete lack of commerce or competitive entrepreneurial spirit; entire communities in his district are without gas stations or grocery stores. Advocating school choice and fewer burdens for small business, Hayes is now speaking to some of his district's most paralyzing issues.
His ecclesiastical background gives way to a cerebral persona. Hayes is mild-mannered and shies away from soaring rhetoric. He explains his platform with no tonal frills or catchy gimmicks -- more like Joe Friday with just the facts. He gently but methodically explained to Ed Morrissey of Hot Air that free-market policies can resonate with his district's residents if they are conveyed in a commonsense manner. Never far from his arguments are the disturbing poverty rates for communities in his district; many hover around 50%. For the first time in decades, district residents are taking notice of the Republican candidate. Earning the endorsement of the Kankakee City News, an African-American-owned newspaper with a circulation of 37,000, Editor James Taylor, Sr. keenly noted the obvious:
Mr. Hayes may have a difficult time convincing the majority to cast a vote for a Republican, but we also recognize that the high unemployment, street and gang violence and underserved schools and communities all have occurred under the representation of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
City News had previously been a long-time endorser of Jackson's reelection campaigns.
Nevertheless, Hayes remains on the front lines of the Democratic firing squad, fighting in territory where uncontested liberalism pervades the citizenry like a bad rash. But he's fighting. At a community networking event in April, Hayes and his staff were booted by a bombastic local Democratic mayor (a contributor and vocal supporter of Jackson's). Despite Hayes and his staff's invitation to the event, the local official dismissed Hayes, calling him a "sellout" and just "another Alan Keyes." "The way my staff and I were treated by the mayor is reminiscent of the 1950s, with a 'No Republicans Allowed' sign," Hayes responded. He later remarked in a statement that the incident "only reinforces my complaint that I was discriminated against because of my political views." Regardless of the vile racial overtones, such insolence directed towards Republicans is the norm in Chicago. Jackson has still enjoyed six reelections with around 80%-85% of the vote, and he more recently garnered 90% with Barack Obama atop the ballot. But with Jackson making headlines more recently as "Senate Candidate No. 5" and allegations that his supporters offered to pay then-Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate, Hayes sees his opening. And while Jackson's role in the Blagojevich scandal remains unclear, he has not escaped unscathed. Named one of the fifteen most corrupt members of Congress by the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Hayes is rightfully making Jackson's integrity gap a campaign issue.
Hayes's candidacy remains a long shot. Anti-incumbent sentiment or backlash against Jackson has its limitations, especially in a wasteland of Democratic politics. No political oddsmaker will bet against Jackson, whose name alone has always carried the day. No matter; Isaac Hayes is a legitimate Republican candidate on terrain the GOP has traditionally conceded to the machine. In this sense, he already embodies a fighting spirit that the party has lacked for years. The machine is no longer the sole presence in the 2nd district. That, in and of itself, is a victory.
Kyle Stone is a practicing attorney in Chicago, IL and serves as Membership Director for the Chicago Young Republicans. He can be contacted at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.