Republicans, looking to mitigate the embarrassment of a neo-Nazi grabbing the party’s nomination in an Illinois congressional race, are considering an independent or write-in campaign for an alternative candidate.
“We are exploring all of our options, but under no circumstances will we support this candidate,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Obviously, the Speaker stands with the RNC, NRCC, and Illinois GOP in denouncing this individual in the strongest possible terms,” said Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s campaign operation. “His views are repugnant and they have no place in our party.”
Jones, a 70-year-old white supremacist who has waged five other campaigns for office, has surprised and dismayed Republicans by grabbing national attention despite a near-zero chance at victory in the general election and multiple previous denunciations by GOP officials.
After candidate filing ended in December, with Jones as the only candidate, the party effectively wrote off the 3rd District, which Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) has represented since 2005.
In February, local Republican organizations in the district released a joint statement urging Republicans to leave their ballots blank rather than support Jones in the primary.
“We Republicans in the Third Congressional District and across Illinois urge civic-minded citizens, regardless of party, to get involved in the political process to prevent nonparty extremists like Arthur Jones from hijacking party nominations and corroding our country’s democracy,” local Republicans wrote.
But the attention-hungry Jones continued to attract national media. In mid-February, he surfaced at the only public forum between Lipinski and his liberal challenger, Marie Newman, sporting a “Make America Great Again” cap, introducing himself to members of the news media and asking if they wanted to interview him. On election night, stories about Jones’s win — over no Republican opponents — were among the most-read stories about the Illinois result.
“Jones does not represent Republican values, and he doesn’t deserve to have an ‘R’ after his name on the ballot,” said Norm Coleman, the national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, in a statement. “The GOP didn’t invite Jones into the party, the only mistake was not running a candidate in an uncompetitive, safe-Democrat district. There is no place for Nazis and white supremacists in the Republican Party, Arthur Jones will never be accepted in our party.”
Republicans are now faced with putting up an alternative candidate that they doubt could win the election in November. In 2016, Lipinski faced no challenger at all; in 2014, a bad year for his party overall, he won reelection by 29 points in a district that was drawn specifically to keep him in Congress. But more than 64,000 votes were cast for his opponent, in a year when Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.) won by just 142,284 votes.
Illinois election law gives candidates outside the Democratic and Republican parties several options for getting on the ballot. Third-party candidates can file to run as late as June, and write-in candidates can declare as late as September. In 2010, a novice politician named Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, quit the race under a cloud of scandal, and then filed to run as a third-party candidate.
But in many recent cases where fringe candidates have won major party nominations, the parties have been out of luck. In 2012, an unknown conspiracy theorist named Mark E. Clayton won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Tennessee; the party recruited a write-in candidate, who was halted after courts decided that Clayton had fulfilled the requirements to be the Democratic nominee.
Two years earlier, Kesha Rogers, a member of the fringe political movement led by Lyndon LaRouche, won the Democratic nomination in a House race the party had written off. Texas Democrats officially sanctioned her campaign, removing any mention of her from party websites or literature.
On Tuesday night, the NRCC released a statement chiding their Democratic counterparts over the tight primary in the 3rd District. That statement made no mention of Arthur Jones.