You have to give the Illinois GOP leadership credit for being
courageous — if not very intelligent. After candidate Jack
Ryan was forced to withdraw from the Illinois senatorial race
following embarrassing sexual allegations, Illinois’
Republicans were faced with a thoroughly unenviable dilemma:
finding a poor sap to challenge rising Democratic hotshot and
virtual Senator-elect Barack Obama. Unable to entice a viable
candidate — or even a willing fool — in a state with
over 20 electoral votes, a major metropolitan area and a diverse
socioeconomic dynamic, the Illinois Republican State Central
Committee reached out to Alan Keyes, a failed presidential and
senatorial candidate from Maryland.

Suhael Momin

This will be Keyes’ third unsuccessful run for the Senate,
this time from a state to which he has no connections and thus
where he has nothing at stake. After Keyes loses, he will merely
leave for his real home in Maryland, leaving the sorry memory of
his candidacy hundreds of miles behind. For the Illinois Republican
Party, however, the Keyes candidacy will have long lasting negative
repercussions. Already, the GOP is on the defensive about
recruiting an African American candidate to run against Obama; The
Economist has slammed the Party, arguing that, “Illinois
Republicans are not just guilty of tokenism. They are guilty of
last-minute scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel tokenism.” Many
have expressed incredulity: how could the GOP not find one truly
viable candidate in one of the nation’s largest states?

The biggest problem for Keyes will not be Obama, but Keyes
himself. Wielding a doctorate from Harvard, he has a history of
taking extreme positions driven by deep-seated intellectual
convictions with little popular support. He will undoubtedly suffer
from his tendency to make bizarre comments and espouse alienating
ideology. Recently, Keyes declared that senators should not be
elected by popular referendum, as stipulated in the 17th Amendment
to the United States Constitution, but rather nominated by state
legislatures, as originally planned. In academic circles, such
debate might be accepted, but it may well be unprecedented for a
candidate to express concerns over the propriety of his own
candidacy. In the past, Keyes has stated that the income tax
— the cornerstone of federal and state-level government
revenue — is equivalent to slavery, and argued that abortion,
even in cases of rape and incest, is worse than slavery. He opposes
all gun laws and seeks to dismantle the United States Department of
Education. He even opposes secularism, arguing the separation of
church and state has no legal basis in the Constitution.

Keyes will be further plagued by his absurd hypocrisy. In 2000,
he chastised then-First Lady Hillary Clinton for seeking an open
Senate seat in New York: “I deeply resent the destruction of
federalism represented by Hillary Clinton’s willingness to go
into a state she doesn’t even live in and pretend to
represent people there. So I certainly wouldn’t imitate
it.” If John Kerry is a flip-flopper, Keyes is an acrobat
extraordinaire.

From the viewpoint of national observers and Illinois Democrats,
the GOP could not have made a better choice. Journalists and
pundits, hungry for another ridiculous pronouncement, will
continually follow Keyes, and Democrats will rejoice as Obama
figuratively skewers Keyes in November. Illinois Republicans,
unfortunately, will be all but abandoned by their party. Barring a
phenomenal development, it is certain that Obama will win; he
currently leads Keyes by 40 percent. Even though many Republicans
would have willingly crossed party lines and voted for Obama
anyway, many now see no other option: their party has failed in
providing them a true contender. The incompetence of
Illinois’ GOP leaders — their inability to find an
in-state nominee or even an electable out-of-state candidate
— has essentially left state Republicans without
representation in November’s contest.

Some have called it a soap opera, others a parody, some a
travesty. Even though GOP leaders in Illinois were faced with a
daunting challenge, their performance has been dismal. The
simplistic candidate search — based on matching a commanding,
well-spoken African American Democrat with a commanding,
well-spoken African American Republican — has discredited
Illinois Republicans, abandoned mainstream conservatives and turned
a senatorial election into a spectacle.

Momin can be reached at
“mailto:smomin@umich.edu”>smomin@umich.edu.

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