Issac Hayes Builds Credibility on the South Side
Is it possible that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., with his name recognition, his 14 years of incumbency and the given wisdom that he is a shoo-in for re-election could lose to a Republican? Not just a Republican, but a conservative one at that? A conservative, black Republican newcomer by the name of Isaac Hayes? A self-proclaimed “Booker T. Washington” Republican?
Perhaps it’s just dreaming by partisans on the right. But even if Jackson “coasts” to victory in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district, as the experts would have it, there’s no doubt that a conservative Republican is putting on a determined, impressive race against an entrenched liberal with an iconic name.
Jackson, of course, faces more than a predicted wave of voter protest against an engorged government. His recent turmoils probably would have been more than enough to finish off a run-of-the-mill candidate. Most recently, he was implicated in a scheme to buy the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama and now held by the potted plant called Roland Burris. The Chicago Sun-Times had disclosed that the fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, told the feds that Jackson personally directed him to offer former Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions in campaign money for the appointment. (Jackson denies the allegations, but has acknowledged that he was named in a criminal complaint as the unidentified potential Senate candidate “5” who had been in touch with Blagojevich.)
Getting tied to Blago is one thing, but the bad news had a second part: Nayak said he had paid for two airline trips to Chicago at Jackson’s request for a “social acquaintance,” Giovana Huidobro, a D.C. restaurant hostess. She’s white, a fact that columnist Mary Mitchell warns could seriously damage him among black women voters. Clarence Page, however, warns against making such an assumption.
Hayes started the campaign a virtual unknown outside of his district. Persistently plugging away, Hayes might have appeared to be only acting the part of a serious candidate. No more. Conservative groups and the Republican Party now are taking him seriously and have bestowed on him a number of endorsements. The National Republican Congressional Committee has named Hayes a candidate to watch in its “Young Guns” program, a designation for candidates in toss-up districts.
The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times refused to endorse Jackson, but apparently couldn’t bring themselves to endorse Hayes. (The Sun-Times said he didn’t have enough experience, although, oddly, it endorsed Democrat Dan Seals in the tenth congressional district, despite what the paper acknowledged was his lack of experience.)
Hayes was endorsed by the Southtown Star, an important voice on the South Side and south suburban second district, and by the Kankakee City News, a black-owned paper. The Daily Defender endorsed Jackson.
Jackson apparently believes that he has been hurt enough politically to declare he would not be a candidate to succeed Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, something he reportedly long had planned to do, even if Daley hadn’t retired. Undoubtedly, running in his predominantly black district is his safer option.
Hayes, a fiscal and social conservative, shares a name with the legendary African American soul musician, a fact that shouldn’t hurt him the district. Also going for him, in my view, is his social conservatism. The regular media reliably considers this a minus for any candidate, especially for a black one, but they could well be wrong. Hayes, a minister’s son, is employed at the Apostolic Church of God, a black congregation on the South Side with a membership of 20,000. Like state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), his social conservatism (and support for school vouchers) has not hurt him.
I’ve considered Jackson to be one of Illinois’ more intelligent representatives and I’ve admired him for taking on Daley by pushing hard for creation of the Abraham Lincoln Airport in the south suburbs. If he loses, the worst that will happen is that he’ll find a place with the beer distributorship that Jesse Sr. set up for his brothers.
Will he win? I wouldn’t bet the house on it, but if he does, it will be a highlight in the national story about Democrats losing the House. White House senior advisor David Axelrod will have to go into overdrive, explaining how the loss was due to the “extraneous factors” that he said already explains the difficulties Democrats are having in Obama’s home state.
But, even in losing, a credible showing by Hayes could signal that it’s time to re-examine some of the old “givens” about how blacks can be taken for granted by Democrats.
Dennis Byrne is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
image ISU Redbird, logo of Illinois State University, alma mater of Rev. Issac Hayes.