Jim Dey | Caught napping by a Nazi, state GOP paying the price

Jim Dey | Caught napping by a Nazi, state GOP paying the price

Is Bruce Rauner, the multimillionaire businessman and governor of Illinois, a closet Nazi? Or a Nazi sympathizer? Or soft on Nazis?

To raise those questions is laughable. Rauner, who is seeking a second term in the November election, is a traditional Republican who's considered to be too liberal by some of his fellow party members.

But the label is being tossed around liberally in Democratic and media circles because of a gross oversight by GOP officials in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District in Chicago, represented by veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski.

They failed to find a GOP loyalist who was willing to make a suicidal run against the firmly ensconced Lipinski. So instead of a real Republican stepping up to the plate, 70-year-old Arthur Jones, the former head of the American Nazi Party, took advantage of the ballot vacancy and was the only candidate to file the proper petitions to run for the U.S. House from the 3rd District.

Apoplectic GOP officials subsequently denounced Jones and warned voters about him by sponsoring robocalls and distributing leaflets.

But even though GOP vote totals declined in the House contest, it's impossible to beat someone with no one.

So, officially, Jones is the Republican candidate. But he has no affection for what he calls a "two-party, Jew-party, queer-party system," and takes particular delight in catching the Republicans napping.

"I snookered them," he said.

Almost as pleased with Jones' candidacy as Jones are Illinois Democrats. Even though there's nothing Republicans can do about Jones' spot on the ballot, Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and his campaign spokesmen have used Jones' candidacy as a club to pummel Rauner as too weak or disinterested to force Jones off the ballot.

"... I sincerely hope (Rauner) would agree that a self-proclaimed Nazi and Holocaust denier has no place as a candidate for any office in Illinois. I urge Bruce Rauner to join me in calling on Arthur Jones to drop out," Pritzker recently told Politico, an online news outlet.

(Notice the word "hope" that Pritzker used. That shows he wants to give Rauner the benefit of the doubt but suggests he is not sure Rauner isn't really a closet Nazi.)

One of Pritzker's publicists was even more aggressive in her comments, calling Rauner "repulsive" for "not having the spine" to urge Jones to drop out of the race.

What's interesting about these recent comments is that Rauner indicated his disgust with the Jones' campaign before the March primary.

"There is no room for neo-Nazis in American politics. I condemn this man in the strongest possible term," he said.

But that was then.

This is now.

Pritzker campaign officials figure people may not have heard — or perhaps forgot about — Rauner's denunciation.

So the approach of the Pritzker campaign is to pretend Jones' candidacy is a brand-new issue that Rauner is ignoring.

"It obviously wouldn't kill Rauner to restate his beliefs. But he did speak out about this months ago," wrote Rich Miller of the daily political newsletter Capitol Fax in Springfield.

The Jones candidacy that Democrats have embraced as an issue illustrates one of the key rules of campaign politics — always attack, never defend.

Reporters, too, have jumped on the Rauner/Nazi bandwagon, peppering him with questions.

Rauner's responses to the recent round of Democratic attacks and media questions illustrate another campaign reality that also serves the Democrats well — if you're explaining, you're losing.

Pritzker attacks, Rauner explains — it's part of the formula that already has Pritzker measuring the drapes in the governor's office in Springfield.

But what of Jones?

He's a former insurance broker who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and is former leader of the American Nazi Party.

He's run for public office on many occasions, mostly in Illinois. He was a candidate for mayor in Milwaukee before he moved across state lines to run for the Chicago City Council and then for the U.S. House eight times.

He's made eight runs in the 3rd District, losing badly in the GOP primary in 1984, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2012.

But here's the thing about the 3rd District. It's one of those districts drawn by Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly to ensure a Democratic victory.

Residents there haven't had a GOP congressman for a half century. The district once was represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski. He bequeathed the congressional seat to his son Dan.

The only way Dan Lipinski ever will be displaced is if he dies, retires or loses in the Democratic Party primary. Interestingly, Lipinski narrowly won the primary this year, beating back an effort by a party leftist.

Given that politically hopeless situation, no Republican desired to be political cannon fodder in 2018.

That left the door wide open for the opportunistic Jones, and now he's getting his 15 minutes of fame — not as a viable candidate for the U.S. House but as a vehicle embraced by Democrats to help run Rauner out of Springfield.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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