Two major parties field duds for U.S. Senate – can Stufflebeam capitalize?

By DOUG IBENDAHL • June 23, 2010
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Monday at 5 p.m. was the deadline to file petitions for third-party candidates and Independents seeking positions on the November ballot. Illinois law requires a minimum of 25,000 valid signatures for such candidates running for any statewide office. (The minimum is only 5,000 for established party candidates running statewide.)


A number of additional candidates filed for U.S. Senate on Monday attempting to join Republican Mark Kirk, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, and LeAlan Jones of the Green Party on the General Election ballot.


Candidates who filed on Monday must first survive any legal objections which may be filed against their petitions.


I’m not familiar with very many of the additional candidates for U.S. Senate. Although everyone has heard of the Libertarian Party and Mike Labno filed as its candidate Monday.


At least one candidate a lot of conservatives will now be watching is Randy Stufflebeam of Belleville who filed for U.S. Senate as part of the Constitution Party slate. Stufflebeam earned a lot of respect when he ran as a write-in candidate for Governor in 2006. He gave voters who couldn’t stomach either Judy Baar Topinka or Rod Blagojevich a place to go.


Stufflebeam says he filed 34,000 signatures – that’s 9,000 over the minimum. Anyone who has ever done the tedious work of gathering petition signatures knows that’s impressive – but at the same time it’s not a guaranteed safe cushion. We’ll have to see what happens. But if he can remain on the ballot, Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for Mark Kirk may have a solid alternative in Stufflebeam.


I also want to say a little about Mike Niecestro. Many were disappointed to learn he did not file on Monday. I talked to Niecestro a couple of times during the past two weeks and mostly liked what I heard. He told me he was a lifelong, conservative Republican who first voted in 1980 for Ronald Reagan. Niecestro also brought successful business experience to the table and reportedly had financial resources to draw upon in a race. Niecestro said he was running because like a lot of people out there – he knew the Republicans Party had to do better than Mark Kirk.


A disappointed Niecestro told me Monday night that he, his wife, and their team had gathered more than 25,000 signatures – but only several hundred above that minimum. After conferring with his election law attorney, he decided not to file, assuming he would be knocked-off by an objection. The cushion would be insufficient.


Yesterday ABC-7 Chicago’s Charles Thomas’ report included this: “Niecestro told me that his petition drive fell way short of its goal because a ‘certain republican politician’ did not make good on his promise to get 45,000 signatures. In fact, according to Niecestro, the politician known as a ‘flake’ in GOP circles, delivered a goose egg.”


Charles Thomas chose not to include the name of the “certain republican politician” Niecestro was referring to. But I asked Niecestro and he said he had no problem with me giving his name.


So here goes – the guy who didn’t deliver to Niecestro as promised was Bill Kelly – the same Bill Kelly who just ran unsuccessfully in the GOP Primary for Comptroller. I would definitely agree with the “flake” characterization mentioned by Niecestro.


Now some might say Niecestro was naïve to have relied on Bill Kelly for anything – especially for tens of thousands of signatures. But I think it’s a little more complicated than that. My sense is that Niecestro and his wife, and probably some others worked their tails off getting petitions. It always goes slower than one thinks it will. I’m guessing Niecestro was hoping he didn’t have to rely on Kelly, but as the deadline approached that commitment from Kelly was in fact needed.


But every campaign is a learning experience and unfortunately Mike Niecestro learned a lesson the hard way. He’s not the first candidate to have trusted someone, only to find out the person was a huckster. He surely won’t be the last. There’s a good lesson here for all new candidates. And I definitely hope Mike Niecestro stays involved. Our Illinois Republican Party needs more people like him.


Finally, I see that Bill Kelly’s latest reinvention of himself is as the Tea Party go-to guy. My advice for the Tea Partiers is the same as for any candidate. Do your due diligence.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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