By Bob Skolnik
Justin Hanson spent three months and raised just over $46,000 running for Congress as write-in candidate in the 3rd Congressional District. The 35-year-old lawyer from LaGrange took more than a month off from his job as an associate at the Gould and Ratner law firm to campaign full time.
He knocked on doors throughout a district that ranges from the Southwest Side of Chicago to near Joliet and includes six precincts in southern Brookfield. Hanson also went to coffees to meet small groups of voters and every night was on the telephone calling voters to plead his case and raise awareness for his high-minded but quixotic campaign.
Despite all his efforts, Hanson received only 1,353 votes, less than 1 percent of the votes cast in the race that was easily won by Democratic incumbent Daniel Lipinski who received 163,053 votes.
Another write-in candidate, Kenneth Yerkes, who Hanson said had the support of Republican Party officials, received 1.039 votes.
A third certified write-in candidate – Richard Mayers, another white supremacist who once was arrested for vandalizing videos about the Holocaust at the Riverside Public Library and in 2005 was also charged with disorderly conduct for giving Nazi salutes during a Lake County court hearing, got 4 votes.
Another 1,685 people wrote in names of people who were not certified as write-in candidates in the 3rd District. As such, those votes weren't counted.
Hanson got into the race in August as an alternative to Art Jones, a candidate with a neo-Nazi background and a record of extreme views who was the Republican nominee after running unopposed in the primary. Hanson said his performance in the race can't be measured by votes alone.
"We were a small campaign, but I do think we ran respectable campaign that was just as much about issues as it was about raising awareness about a bad man, meaning Art Jones, running for office and people standing up against him," Hanson said. "I'm not going to look to the numbers as, to me, as the bellwether of whether we succeeded,"
Lipinski received about 72 percent of the vote while Jones received 57,885 votes or almost 26 percent of vote.
Hanson, whose campaign put up about 250 "Yes, Art Jones in a Nazi" signs next to Jones' campaign signs in the last couple weeks of the campaign, said he was disappointed and surprised about how many votes Jones got.
But Hanson noted that Jones ran behind other Republican candidates on the ballot and did worse against Lipinski than previous Republican challengers.
"I think our campaign had an impact on the fact that he underperformed the average of Republican candidates," Hanson said.
Hanson said he thought most of the people who voted for Jones didn't know about his background. Hanson, however, said he talked to perhaps a couple hundred of voters who said they knew about Jones' background but were going to vote for him anyway.
"What surprised me the most about canvassing and talking to people, it was way more people than I thought knew about his background and were voting for him anyway, just because he's not a Democrat," Hanson said. "That surprised me. That's alarming."
Hanson said he thought many people were just looking at party labels.
"It's like a punch to the heart when you hear that is how far our tribal politics have come," Hanson said.
"This is a year that tribal politics ruled."
Hanson, who while in his 20s worked as a Congressional aide for prominent Republican members of the House of Representatives, said he enjoyed running for office and might do so again in the future. His grandfather, John Oremus, was the longtime mayor of Bridgeview.
After declaring himself an independent during his write-in campaign, Hanson said he could well run for office in the future as a Democrat, although he has not firmly made up his mind about which party he wants to belong to.
"I could see myself running as a moderate Democrat," Hanson said. "I remain extremely committed to the idea of patriotism does not have a party."
Hanson blamed the Illinois Republican Party for not recruiting candidates in the 3rd Congressional District which made it possible for Jones to be unopposed in the primary.
"I hope that people don't ever forget the position the party put voters in," Hanson said.