State Senator Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) defeated his primary opponent Debbie Boyle last night in the race for the newly created 81st House district. Sandack, a former mayor of Downers Grove, was appointed to the senate in 2010 when Dan Cronin, who previously held the seat, was elected as Chair of the DuPage County Board. Boyle is a local school board member.
The race was followed with enthusiasm from Sandack and Boyle supporters alike. Both candidates came into the race with baggage and fervent detractors, if the comments on the local Patch site and other local media are any indicator. One of Boyle's supporters even created a website with content almost exclusively devoted to criticism of Sandack.
The race turned out to be as much about local factions and political vendettas as about issues. Boyle is the protege of Brian Krajewski, Chair of the Downers Grove Republican Township Organization. Krajewski, also a former Downers Grove mayor, lost that position when he was trounced in the 2007 mayoral race by Sandack.
As DGRTO Chair- a position he inherited from state Senator Kirk Dillard- Krajewski has, on paper, the advantage in a local election. He controls the precinct committeemen, who are usually the key to a win. He's got deep roots in the community, strong allegiances with Township and County politicians, and many would argue that if he didn't bury the bodies of his political enemies, he surely knows where they lie.
Sandack, who received a glowing Tribune endorsement ("He gets high marks for his work ethic — he's famous for actually reading the bills..") hasn't gone gently into the Republican night. In response to Krajewski's iron clad grip on the local party organization, Sandack created a secondary organization of volunteers and supporters. Although recent municipal elections highlighted the schism, the campaign for the 81st exposed its depth.
While both factions have long claimed moral superiority over the other, their differences have seemed to be more the result of personality and character than in platform. With this campaign, however, the charge of not being a "real" Republican was openly levied against Sandack by Boyle and her supporters. Sandack was supported by mainstream, moderate Republicans; Boyle got the local Tea Party endorsement and political operative Dan Proft's, whose assorted PACs contributed most of Boyle's war chest.
The Republican party in DuPage, which once put on an unassailable united front to critics, now mimics the national organization in its divisiveness and insider, down-in-the-trenches warfare.
It's too soon to tell what the long-term fallout from the primary race will be, if any. Attempts to defeat Krajewski in his runs for county board have so far proven unsuccessful. Krajewski supported candidates for municipal and state elections continue to lose against those with support from the Sandack camp. At best, it's a draw.
Except, last night, for Boyle.
Disclosure: In 2007, I was the campaign chair for a slate of school board candidates who successfully ran against several opponents. Debbie Boyle was one of the candidates who lost. She won her school board seat in the next election.