Republican veteran Steve Rauschenberger may be kicked off the ballot in his race to return to the state Senate because he is just not Republican enough.
Call it just the latest bizarre chapter in the thick Illinois history of scrubbing out challengers before voters even get a chance to have a say.
This time, the move has taken some of the oddest turns — and may even see more twists.
“It disgusts me,” said Rauschenberger, who served in the Senate for 14 years as an Elgin Republican, twice ran for statewide office in GOP primaries and now heads a conservative fundraising organization.
The blow to Rauschenberger’s comeback bid came Wednesday when an election hearing officer ruled in favor of a Democratic challenge to his candidacy on the grounds that he is not a “qualified primary voter.”
That is because Rauschenberger pulled a Democratic ballot in April’s primary to support his sister’s bid for a trustee post in Elgin Township.
The theory goes that because Rauschenberger most recently voted Democratic, he can’t legitimately run as a Republican in the primary.
Ironically, this wrinkle in Illinois law came about partly because a suburban Republican incumbent challenged a Democratic opponent’s party credentials in a 2008 general election race.
Rauschenberger acknowledged Thursday he is getting hit with a stealthy campaign weapon crafted by his own party, but he contends it is still wrong.
“I don’t care who does the trickery, none of this is good,” said Rauschenberger, who has been out of office since his failed lieutenant governor primary bid in 2006.
But Rauschenberger isn’t off the ballot just yet. And even if he is kicked off, he could come back in time for the general election in the fall of 2010.
“It ain’t over,” said Rauschenberger’s election attorney Burt Odelson.
The hearing officer’s opinion is not final. It will got to the general counsel for the state board of elections and then to the election commission, where four Democrats and four Republicans hold sway.
Rauschenberger’s name will come off the Feb. 2 primary ballot if the four Democrats can convince a Republican to side with them. If the vote comes strictly down party lines, Rauschenberger stays on the ballot.
Still, the case is likely to end up in the courts either way, probably delaying the final decision to just weeks or days before the primary.
Meanwhile, both sides are expected to jockey for write-in candidates who have to file by 5 p.m. today.
Rauschenberger says he may support a write-in candidate to ensure he could either step in as a slated candidate after the primary or to be sure the party has a candidate he supports.
Rauschenberger says he expects the Democrats to try and convince a different Republican to file as a write-in candidate to prevent him from being slated after the primary.
If Rauschenberger is ultimately kicked off the ballot, he could file as a write-in candidate himself up to a week before the election — but that will be weeks after early voting starts in the 22nd Senate District.
Rauschenberger lamented Illinois’ twisted election code that often leads to backroom games of kicking opponents off the ballot.
“It is just fascinating to see the lengths they will go to,” he said.
Michael Kasper, an attorney for the Illinois Democratic Party, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Odelson, who pushed the original 2008 case now being used against Rauschenberger, said the appellate court ruling is being distorted.
Odelson says the two cases are different, because Rauschenberger’s Democratic vote came in a separate election cycle from the current primary. In the 2008 case, the candidate being challenged had voted in the Republican primary and then tried to run as a Democrat in the following general election.