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The 2000 United States House of Representatives election for the 1st district in Illinois took place on November 7, 2000. While incumbent Democratic Representative Bobby Rush handily defeated his Republican opponent, Raymond Wardingley, this race is noteworthy for the primary challenge Rush survived from future Senator and President Barack Obama.

The district

The 1st congressional district of Illinois since 2003
Illinois's 1st congressional district is a minority-majority district and has a higher percentage of African American (65 percent) than any other congressional district in the nation. It is a working class district, and currently has a Cook PVI of D+35, making it one of the most Democratic districts in the country.

Candidates

Bobby Rush

Rush was involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a former member and founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Rush served as an alderman, and he was first elected to represent this district in 1992. Rush ran for Mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley in 1999 and lost, receiving only 28% of the vote, perhaps making him appear electorally vulnerable.

Barack Obama

Obama, at age 38, was a lecturer at the University of Chicagomarker and a two-term state Senator. Though friends, including Terry Link, his colleague in the Illinois Senate, warned Obama against challenging Rush, as there was no obvious reason to displace him to the voters, Obama ran anyway, due to his frustration with Republican obstructionism in the Illinois Legislature and the feeling Rush wasn't representing the district as well as he could.

Campaign

Obama entered the race in late September 1999, only six months before the primary, stating Rush represented “a politics that is rooted in the past, a reactive politics that isn’t good at coming up with concrete solutions”, while promising to build consensus and lead coalitions involving people outside of the black community to reduce crime, improve health care coverage, promote economic development and expand educational opportunities

Early polling showed Rush’s name recognition started off at 90 percent, while Obama’s at 11. Rush had 70 percent approval, while Obama had 8 percent approval. In the head to head matchup, forty-seven percent of the people polled favored Mr. Rush, 10 percent favored Mr. Obama and 5 percent supported Donne Trotter, who is also African American. Most of Obama's support came from Whites.

In mid-October, Rush’s son, Huey, was murdered, leading Obama to put his campaign on hold. Governor George Ryan called the Illinois Legislature to a special session to re-enact a package of gun-safety bills, a pet issue of Rush's, which had been overturned by the Illinois Supreme Courtmarker. Obama supported the package, but the session dragged on towards Christmas. Obama annually spends the Christmas vacation in Hawaiimarker with his family visiting his grandmother, who raised him. Obama left Illinois, expecting the session would continue into January. However, a crucial vote took place earlier than expected, failing by five votes with Obama and others absent. Obama came under fire for missing the vote, though he said he would have flown back sooner, but his 18-month-old daughter was sick.

As Obama lived in Hyde Parkmarker, a more affluent neighborhood with a higher percentage of White voters than the rest of the district, the narrative of the race became "the Black Panther against the professor" Obama frequently came off as uptight. Rush criticized Obama, saying "Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. We’re not impressed with these folks with these Eastern elite degrees. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it." Trotter said "Barack is viewed in part to be the white man in blackface in our community." Many, including local officials and President Bill Clinton endorsed Rush.

Obama raised enough money to remain competitive with Rush. However, he didn't connect with the working class African Americans of the district, nor did he provide a convincing reason for them to vote against Rush. Obama lost the primary election, held on March 21, 2000, by a 2-to-1 margin.

Obama later wrote: “Less than halfway into the campaign, I knew in my bones that I was going to lose. Each morning from that point forward I awoke with a vague sense of dread, realizing that I would have to spend the day smiling and shaking hands and pretending that everything was going according to plan.”

Results

Primary Election

The primary election was held on March 21, 2000.

Source: OurCampaigns.com, IL District 01- D Primary, Mar 21 2000

General Election

Source: OurCampaigns.com, IL District 1 Race, Nov 7 2000

Aftermath

Obama later said he got “my rear end handed to me” in his loss to Rush, and acknowledged his own hubris. However, many analysts believe that Obama's loss helped him to learn from his mistakes, which enabled him to run more successful campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Obama was seen as a stiff policy wonk, and he used the experience to hone his ability to connect with voters. According to Chicago City Council member Toni Preckwinkle, an early Obama supporter, Obama "took a hard look at himself after that campaign and became a much better campaigner, more at ease on the campaign trail." Also, Obama increased his focus on the Illinois Senate, improving his legislative accomplishments.

In 2004, Obama was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. After his speech, political pundits speculated about his future as a possible presidential candidate. After being elected to the United States Senate that year, and amid much speculation in the media regarding his future plans, Obama announced that he would seek the 2008 democratic presidential nomination in February 2007 and went on to defeat Hillary Clinton in one of the closest presidential nominaton races in American history. He then defeated fellow senator John McCain in the general election to become the first African American to be elected President of the United States.

See also



References




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