It was very close, but a winner has been declared in the Republican mayoral primary in Chicago, and he is a perfect symbol of the GOP's historic place in that overwhelmingly Democratic city: Spanky the Clown.

His real name is Raymond Wardingley, 59, a disabled veteran and sometime entertainer best known for his appearances as the Spanky character. He has run for mayor three times before and in this primary finally won against four rivals with about 2,400 votes.

In the April general election, he will face Mayor Richard M. Daley, who won the Democratic primary with more than 342,000 votes, and independent candidate Roland W. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general.

Wardingley told reporters he retired as Spanky in 1983 and now wants to be mayor "for the little guy."

The election outcome delighted many in Chicago. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Richard Roeper noted that nothing could better capture the state of the party in a city where "I once spent an election day with the GOP candidate for mayor {and} he got his car washed. No kidding."

But another reaction came from conservative activist and commentator Thomas F. Roeser in his Sun-Times column the same day. He blamed the debacle on Illinois Republican leaders such as Gov. Jim Edgar, whom he accused of being too willing to cooperate with the Democrats who run Chicago and who "have tolerated no room for spontaneity in their party." He also wondered what would happen "if Newt came to Chicago," suggesting that only House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) or someone like him could energize the local GOP with fresh, conservative ideas.

So far there has been no response to Roeser's fulminations from Gingrich or Wardingley.