In the last 103 years, a Republican has represented Illinois District 5 for a grand total of two years. Despite the historic Democratic “machine” hold on this Chicago and northwest suburban congressional district, Republican David Ratowitz is giving it a shot after winning the GOP primary on February 2nd.
Ratowitz will have his hands full. The Republican nominee faces incumbent Michael Quigley, who won a special election last April with 70 percent of the vote. Prior to that, current White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel held the District for six years. Ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich represented District 5 from 1997-2002.
Even though the District has a tendency to produce the type of Democrats that Republicans love to hate, Ratowitz is optimistic about his chances — pointing out that Cook County Board Commissioner Candidate Tony Peraica carried 56 percent of the vote within his district in 2006. “The strength of the machine has been its ability to hand out jobs. But in the last couple years there have been indictments… Aldermen aren’t able to deliver patronage jobs and as a result the muscle of the machine isn’t there” Ratowitz told TAS. “The city is in such bad financial shape, they’ve had to furlough city employees. The city employees aren’t feeling especially loyal to the machine. Added to that, voters who normally would say ‘everything is going fine’ aren’t satisfied,” the candidate explained.
Moreover, in recent years the Democrat-controlled Cook County Board has raised sales taxes multiple times. In Chicago, the combined sales tax is now at 10.25 percent. Quigley, a former Cook County Board member, did oppose many of the tax increases, but Ratowitz points out that Quigley supported Cook County Board Chairman Todd Stroger in his 2006 election campaign. Stroger lost the Democratic Primary in 2010, and possesses a Blagojevichesque approval rating of around 10 percent.
The attorney and former real estate developer believes that the small business community in his district is fed up with the Democrats. “This is a district where very few people are on public assistance. It’s a district that foots the bill for government,” Ratowitz explained. He then attacked Quigley for his “yes” vote on Cap and Trade, but said that Quigley’s affirmative vote on the healthcare bill would be even more costly for him. “I have yet to find a businessperson in the 5th Congressional District who does not oppose this healthcare bill. They are scared to death of it. ”
A former district coordinator for Campaign for Liberty, Ratowitz would like to audit The Federal Reserve, but stops short of saying “end The Fed.” Ratowitz has also pledged not to raise taxes while in office. He opposes the Afghanistan surge, but said that America was right to attack Al-Qaeda there initially. Ratowitz served in the military, and he reports on his website that he was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain, Field Artillery in 1997.
Ratowitz admits that he has been weak on fundraising, but points out that Quigley has also been weak in that area for an incumbent. As of the January FEC filing, Quigley had $206,000 cash on hand while Ratowitz only had around a thousand dollars. That said, he might recover some if he is able to mobilize the Campaign for Liberty groups, with “money bombs,” and establish himself as a tea party candidate. Ratowitz also believes he can win support within the district’s substantial Polish population.
November is still a long way away, but in a tax-heavy, Olympicless Chicago with Blagojevich trials beginning in the coming months, Ratowitz could gain some momentum. If he is able to pull off the upset, it would send a big message nationwide that even a Chicago District, and one formerly represented by the chief of staff, could go Republican. However, one possible concern conservatives might have is that a Ratowitz victory might put Rahm Emanuel back into play for the 2012 race in District 5. If Quigley is no longer the Congressman, and Emanuel is no longer Chief of Staff, it might make more sense for Emanuel to try to pursue his long-held dream of becoming Speaker of the House. That said, if Ratowitz is able to win in a D+18 district, it might indicate that the chief of staff’s career is essentially over.
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