Internet Used As Campaign Tool In 9th District Race

Rebecca Huval

By Rebecca HuvalThe Daily Northwestern

If Republican candidate Michael P. Shannon hasn’t responded to your e-mail, try poking him on Facebook.com.

Shannon has a profile that lists his favorite movies (“Any Underdog movie”) and describes himself as a “channel flipper.” With thousands of students on the Web site, the profile is one of Shannon’s ways to run a contribution-free campaign against U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston.

“If you write me a check, I will tear it up,” he said as he was campaigning door-to-door.

Shannon is running against Democratic candidate Schakowsky, a four-term incumbent who won the strongly Democratic Ninth Congressional District with more than 70 percent of votes in 2004.

Schakowsky’s campaign has raised $1.1 million for the current race. Shannon is running as a Republican – even though he started the Facebook.com group “The UnRepublicans” and doesn’t like political labels.

The group, like many of Shannon’s statements, says that neither political party listens to the interests of young people. He said he runs without campaign contributions because he wants to draw attention to the financial debt younger generations will inherit due to Social Security and Medicare costs and the high national debt.

Shannon said he hopes a low-budget campaign will inspire new methods to finance campaigns. He also said the way district lines are drawn is unfair to challengers.

“Rigging elections is about the only thing Democrats and Republicans can accomplish together,” he said. “They draw district lines based on historical voting patterns.”

Schakowsky agrees that district lines should be reconsidered to be fair to challengers and incumbents. She also said she understands that Shannon is trying to show how money can be “corrosive to politics,” but she accepts campaign contributions to help her communicate her message to voters.

“It’s hard to communicate who you are without hiring a campaign staff and people to go door-to-door,” she said. “My compromise would be public financing of campaigns.”

She said her primary goal is passing a bill for universal healthcare. She’s also the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, and focuses on safety in child products such as car seats.

Schakowsky said she learns a lot from her constituents’ suggestions.

Mary Roden, 64, of Evanston, said she e-mailed Schakowsky 40 to 50 messages, and Schakowsky responded to every one. Roden said they discussed issues such as drilling in the Arctic, conserving national parks and helping people in the war-ravaged Darfur.

“I’m all set with Schakowsky. I e-mail her often, and her answers are in-sync with my wishes,” Roden said. “She says she understands my views, and that tells me how she votes.”

Other residents said Schakowsky was the best option available in a flawed system. Tad Brennan, 44, of Evanston, said Democrats in Congress should have been more vocal against the war in Iraq, but Schakowsky spoke out more than the rest.

Some residents said they wish the race was more closely contested.

“In this city, there is no choice,” said Cameron Hendershot, 66, of Evanston. “It’s a heavily Democratic city. I never see her around here, I don’t know what she does. When you have a 90 percent district, you don’t have to come home very often. I believe in competition. Competition is healthy.”

John Tsarpalas, executive director of the Illinois Republican Party, said his group hasn’t focused efforts on the Ninth District because the incumbent has the advantage. But he said Shannon is a “qualified, sincere candidate.”

“Michael wants to do this low budget, and I think he’s doing this the best he can that way,” Tsarpalas said.

“It’s just the hard way. If I could change anything, I would have Michael win the lottery. That way, he could get the message out to voters. I think it would be a closer race.”

Reach Rebecca Huval at [email protected]