No, This Crazy GOP Candidate Will Not Sink Her Party in 2014

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 21 2014 11:57 AM

No, This Crazy GOP Candidate Will Not Sink Her Party in 2014

Not to pick on the Huffington Post too much, but the site that perfected the "GOP lawmaker" story just burned up the charts with another genre classic: The "candidate" story that offers no clues about whether the candidate has a chance of winning. To date, nearly 90,000 people have "liked" or "shared" a story tagged "Candidate Who Blames Gay Rights for Tornadoes Scores Big GOP Win." The candidate is Susanne Atanus, "who believes that God dictates weather patterns and that tornadoes, autism and dementia are God's punishments for marriage equality."

What's missing from the story? Atanus' status as a fringe candidate. She's running in Illinois' 9th District, which covers the liberal northern suburbs of Chicago, including Northwestern University's campus and Hillary Clinton's old home of Park Ridge. For decades, the district has been solidly left-wing, and since 1998 it has sent progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky to Congress. She has never won with less than 66 percent of the vote. A 2012 gerrymander took some liberal suburbs out of her seat to make neighboring seats more competitive—Barack Obama still won the district by 28 points over Mitt Romney. Susanne Atanus will never, ever serve in Congress.

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This isn't secret knowledge, so why is it so hard to include in a story? The safe blue nature of IL-9 does make it into Matt Berman's National Journal story about Atanus ("the district, says the Cook Political Report, is solidly Democratic"), but it's an afterthought in a piece about how "in what is expected to be a good election year for Republicans, a highly visible political candidate espousing Akinian views could badly damage the party's efforts to expand its ranks."

That's a reach. Both parties are going to be cursed with a few idiot candidates this year. It's the nature of things when most congressional districts are unwinnable—if you can't entice a real candidate to do a party-building exercise, you may end up with a fringe candidate. In 2012 the declining Tennessee Democratic Party accidentally nominated a conspiracy-minded flooring installer for U.S. Senate. The media did not hustle down to Nashville and Memphis to cover him. No Democrat in another state was asked whether they agreed with this candidate about the NAFTA superhighway or the "Godless new world order." When voters are so ignorant and disinterested that they nominate kooks, it's not an opportunity. It's a disgrace.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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