Thoughts on an Endorsement in IL-18 Special Election

The decision to endorse a candidate for office is one of the most important decisions we make at Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund (TPPCF). Consequently, a lot goes into it – probably more than even most of our supporters realize.

We begin by doing our research on the political environment in the district, and on all the candidates involved. We look at legislative vote histories and interest group scorecards where we can, and we talk to our local supporters on the ground in the district. We speak with others in the Conservative Movement – leaders and activists affiliated with other groups, or allied Members of Congress or a state legislature – who may have some unique knowledge about the candidate(s) or the campaign. We pay attention to local thought leaders in the Conservative Movement, whether they are supporters of ours or not. We poll our own supporters in the district, reaching out via both phone and email to seek their input. And when we are ready, we interview the candidate(s) we are considering for an endorsement.

In the case of the contest for the GOP nomination in the special election in Illinois’s 18th Congressional District, we had a particular interest in making an endorsement – one of the candidates, Mike Flynn, actually worked with TPPCF in the 2014 cycle. Based on that unique exposure, we know Mike Flynn’s thinking on public policy problems, and we have confidence that were he to be nominated and elected, his would be a strong new voice for liberty in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Moreover, several we consider natural allies – including groups like Citizens United Political Victory Fund, and individuals like Mark Levin, Richard Viguerie, Stephen Moore, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch, and Loyd Marcus – have endorsed Mike. And several of our own local Tea Party Patriots group leaders have endorsed Mike’s candidacy in their personal capacities.

But one of the other candidates for the GOP nomination had displayed the same kind of thinking on public policy problems, and not just in answering a questionnaire, but instead in the crucible of a state legislature – and not just any state legislature, but the Illinois state legislature, where conservative Republicans are a rare breed, and where a conservative voting record is even rarer. Darin LaHood, author of that conservative voting record, a state Senator whose state Senate district covers some of the same territory as the 18th Congressional District, also chose to campaign for the nomination in the special election, and sought the TPPCF endorsement.

During his four years in the state Senate, our state and local Tea Party Patriots leaders told us, LaHood has shown his commitment to personal freedom, economic freedom, and a debt-free future. He has voted the way our local leaders hoped he would, he has respected local Tea Party leaders and groups, and he has been a regular visitor to local Tea Party gatherings. In fact, less than two months after he was first sworn in, he joined local Tea Party groups to stand with them and speak at a Tax Day Tea Party rally.

Perhaps as importantly, LaHood has demonstrated his determination not to be a vassal of the GOP Leadership – not once, but twice, as he voted every chance he had against the Establishment GOP’s choice to be Minority Leader in the Illinois state Senate. As the son of a politician, LaHood grew up seeing first hand and understanding the price to be paid by legislators who defy their party Leadership on such votes; nevertheless, he refused to be cowed, and voted his conscience. It cost him campaign contributions and prized committee assignments to do so, but he did what he thought was right.

Further, LaHood has garnered the vast majority of the endorsements offered by conservatives actually in Illinois. Former Congressman Joe Walsh endorsed his candidacy, as did his state Senate colleague Jim Oberweis, whose conservative credentials have never been in question (and whom TPPCF endorsed last year in his run for the U.S. Senate against Dick Durbin). Particularly impressive was his endorsement by former state Representative Penny Pullen, who’s been a strong conservative leader in Illinois for more than three decades, and his endorsement by Dan Proft, one of the most influential conservative talk radio hosts in the state. Most importantly, LaHood won the personal endorsement of TPP’s two state coordinators.

We polled our grassroots supporters in the district twice via email, and once via telephone calls. They were as divided on the endorsement question as were our local and state coordinators. Interestingly, most of those who support Flynn told us they would be comfortable with LaHood representing them and most of those who support LaHood said the same about the possibility of Flynn representing them.

Unlike many other conservative organizations that claim to be “grassroots” organizations, we actually seek out – and follow, to the extent possible – our grassroots supporters’ wishes when it comes to matters of policy and politics. In this case, they were evenly divided, with strong views expressed on both sides.

Consequently, in the contest for the GOP nomination in the special election in Illinois’ 18th Congressional District, we choose not to endorse.