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[From left to right: Mel Reynolds, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Gus Savage]

Last Friday, State Sen. Donne Trotter formally withdrew from the Second Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. The announcement came three weeks after he was arrested at O'Hare for trying to pass through security with a concealed gun. At the time of his arrest, Trotter was considered the front-runner to win the special election. Of course, the special election had only come about because the avalanching shenanigans of Jesse Jackson, Jr. forced his resignation.

The incidents involving Trotter and Jackson are just the latest examples that show how the constituents of the second congressional district are cursed. Because there's no other way to explain the misfortune that has plagued the district's constituents over the last 30 years.

It wasn't always this way, though. For the first 150 years or so of the district's existence, it hosted a colorful collection of Congressmen.

James Woodworth, who held the seat from 1855 to 1857, also served several terms as Chicago mayor, was a founding trustee of both the "old" University of Chicago and the Chicago Astronomical Society, and helped make Chicago an economic center by guiding the Midwest's railways and water traffic through the city.

From 1903 to 1922, the congressman of the 2nd district was James Robert Mann, author of the Mann Act of 1910 (aka the White Slave Traffic Act) which prohibited the interstate transportation of women for prostitution.

Abner Mikva served as the district's representative from 1969 until 1973. In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals where he served until 1994 when he retired to serve as White House counsel for then-President Bill Clinton.

And from 1853 to 1855, just before Woodworth, there was John Wentworth whose two-year stint as the second district's rep was part of a long political career that culminated in his service as Chicago's mayor. Wentworth also served in Congress as a representative of Illinoi's first and fourth districts and during his Congressional tenure, he was offered a deal by Wisconsin that would have extended that state's border to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. His reward had he allowed the Badger state to expand? A seat in the U.S. Senate. Wentworth said no.

So, then, it's easy to understand why I can't help but view the district as anything but cursed. How else to explain that the last three representatives have been, in succession, a virulent racist, a statutory rapist, and a scandal-laden charlatan? How else to explain the ascension of Gus Savage, who held the seat from 1981 until 1993? Somehow, Savage held on to his seat for 12 years despite numerous challengers, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and accusations of verbally and physical sexual harassment of a Peace Corp. volunteer during a press junket tour of Ethiopia in 1989. He also had a habit of using homophobic slurs towards reporters whose questions he didn't like.

Finally ousting Savage in 1992 was an upstart reformer named Mel Reynolds. A graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, an MPA from Harvard, and a Rhodes Scholar, hopes were high for Reynolds. Instead, in August 1994, less than 2 years after his election, he was indicted on a host of charges stemming from a sexual relationship he carried on with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In 1995, Reynolds was forced to resign his seat.

Winning the seat after Reynolds' exit was a charismatic up-and-comer, Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the famed Rev. Jesse Jackson. For years, Jackson served without controversy, happy to build a reputation that helped him escape his father's shadow. Then, in 2008, he was connected to the pay-for-play scandal that ensnared then-governor Rod Blagojevich. Jackson allegedly offered up fundraising to Blago in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he won the 2008 Presidential election.

In early June of this year, Jesse Jackson, Jr. made his last public appearance before disappearing into the ether. In the interim, he's been in and out of the Mayo Clinic for treatment of bipolar disorder, become the target of a federal investigation into misuse of campaign funds, and, jus weeks after winning re-election in November, resigned his seat in disgrace.

The curse's source remains unknown, the misery of the second district voters still intact as they prepare for yet another special election. Even Reynolds has risen from the political graveyard to run for his old seat, a specter of the past that continues to haunt the district. This, even after Savage, despite his morally repugnant behavior, managed to keep his seat for 12 years, never receiving less than 82 percent of the vote in a general election until 1990, the year after he was accused of sexual harassment, when he received "only" 78 percent of the vote.

Those dark cosmic forces maintained their veil over the electorate in November 1994 when Reynolds, just months after his statutory rape indictment, Reynolds, unopposed from any major party challenger, received 98 percent of the vote over several independent candidates in his re-election bid.

The curse's iron grip held fast when in November when Jackson, sight unseen, was never seriously challenged on his way to a startling victory in which he garnered 63 percent of the vote.

And so this curse of mysterious origins remains unabated, its cause still a mind-bending unknown, holding hostage the tortured souls of our state's Second Congressional District. No amount of voodoo seems to have reversed the cloud of calamity that has swallowed the area whole, keeping fraudulent abusers of power in place. There seems to be no magic remedy that can save them from this string of awful leaders who somehow, some way, manage to maintain their terrible cycle of darkness and dismay.

Even the once-mighty Cook County Democratic Party has been stymied, endorsing no one for the upcoming special election primary, handing over its faith to the fates and hoping for the best. And, that's all the district's voters can do: hope and pray that somehow this evil spell is broken, that, somehow, salvation will arrive and free the them from the malicious cycle that's held them captive for so long.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza // Click to embiggen


Yes, the image that spawned a world-conquering meme is getting new life thanks to a White House visit by the gold-winning U.S. women's gymnastic team. It's a fantastic, fun photo and one that now will surely spawn a new meme: "Obama is not impressed."

If you can come up with some great Obama-inspired "not impressed" images, let us know. Maybe we'll run one in this space.

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The Electoral College breakdown map, courtesy of C-SPAN.
Click to embiggen


By Neil Steinberg

If you thought Tuesday you were voting for the presidential candidate of your choice, think again. Due to a historic quirk in the creation of the United States -- some old operating code, as it were -- American voters do not chose the president directly, but rather select electors to the Electoral College who do the actual selecting of the president.

It's a cumbersome system. Each state has the same number of electors as it has representatives in Congress --the House of Representatives and Senate combined. Illinois, for example, has 20 - down one after the last census. They can't be the elected officials themselves, however. In 48 of the states, whoever wins the popular vote also wins all the electors -- only Nebraska and Maine have a proportional system where electoral votes are divided up between the winner and loser.

The system is a relic of an age when travel was difficult and counting ballots even more problematic than it is today. The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that numerous regional contenders didn't divide the nation.

Thus whoever wins 270 of the 538 available electoral votes will be inaugurated president on Jan. 20, 2013. But every four years there is talk of scrapping the Electoral College system, though it does have its defenders. Here are the main arguments, pro and con.

Reasons to get rid of it

  1. 1. A discrepancy between the number of voters and the number of electoral votes creates the possibility of losing the popular vote while winning the Electoral College. Three presidents have been elected on electoral votes while failing to win a majority of voters -- Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000 -- an outcome that undermines the faith Americans have in the legitimacy of the executive branch of government.
  2. 2. The Electoral College is inherently undemocratic, skewing significance toward smaller, more sparsely populated states. Delaware, with 900,000 residents, has three electoral votes, while Texas, with more than 25 million residents, has 34, which means from an electoral point of view, a vote in Delaware is more than twice as significant -- representing 1/300,000th of an electoral vote -- than a vote in Texas, representing 1/750,000 of an electoral vote.
  3. 3. By focusing on assembling 270 electoral votes, candidates ignore "safe" states such as Illinois, where there is no point in fighting for more votes once a majority is reached, since all the electoral votes are already assured. Thus the majority of states, nearly certain to fall one way or another, tend to get ignored in favor of a handful of "swing" states.
  4. 4. Even if the Electoral College works perfectly, it still introduces unnecessary delay into the system. Give the likelihood of immediate electronic voting in the foreseeable future, having to wait for some mysterious conclave to put its seal of approval on the will of the American people is unnecessary, not only wasting time, but wasting the money required to run the system.
  5. 5. There is the remote but real possibility of fraudulent electors -- members of the Electoral College who refuse to vote the way the results require that they vote. This has happened, and while it has never affected the outcome of a race, it could, and there is no reason to allow the possibility that one individual could perversely negate the will of hundreds of thousands of voters.

Reasons to keep it

  1. 1. America is change averse and would rather cling to an arcane system than switch to a new one, which might have flaws of its own. If we can't get rid of the penny, we can't scrap the Electoral College so why try? To do so, would involve a change in the constitution -- Article II, Section I lays out the details of the Electoral College -- and whatever benefit isn't worth the trouble of doing that.
  2. 2. Without the Electoral College, candidates would be encouraged to treat the country as a whole, and campaign through the national media, or in urban centers where the most people are concentrated. They would never spend time in a place like Ohio, where an evenly divided population means its electoral votes are up for grabs.
  3. 3. The Electoral College can soften the sting of tight races, which we often see. Thus a candidate who only wins by a tiny percentage of the popular vote can still have a considerable victory in the Electoral College, leading to a greater impression of consensus, which is good for subsequent governing.
  4. 4. The Electoral College helps direct power toward the states -- without it, authority would be even more centralized than it already is.
  5. 5. If the Electoral College wasn't scrapped after the debacle of the 2000 elections -- which saw one of those fraudulent electors -- it's never going to be.

It's hard to believe but someone just topped Todd Akin in the "ridiculous rape and abortion remarks" department. During a debate tonight, Richard Mourdock, Indiana's GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, dropped the latest in a line of controversial sound bites by Republican candidates during this election cycle about abortion. During the debate, after saying the only exception for abortion he'd allow is if the mother's life is in danger, Mourdock then explained why he doesn't support abortions in the case of rape: "I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from god. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin raised hackles earlier this year when he claimed women who were victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant. Closer to home, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, locked in a tense battle with Tammy Duckworth for his Congressional seat, claimed abortions were never necessary to save a mother's life.

In Indiana, the latest polls show U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) as holding a slim lead over Mourdock who is currently Indiana's state treasurer. Mourdock's website proudly displays an endorsement from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Update: After the debate, Mourdock backed off his comment, saying, "Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think God ordained or pre-ordained rape? No, I don't think that anyone could suggest that. That's a sick, twisted - no, that's not even close to what I said."

Our sister publication in Merrillville, Ind., the Post-Tribune, has details on the debate.

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FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics are two sites that have garnered acclaim and traffic during the election season as voters try to get a leg up of the latest prognostications. While we can't know exactly how the election will turn out, these sites have forecasting down to a science. But there's another website that could give us a peek into who will win this year's hotly contested presidential election: Google. The megabeheamoth search engine is actually a source of tremendous - and entertaining - data and some it of can actually correlate with election outcomes as Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explored at the New York Times.

While so much of the information gleaned from the search data is either ridiculous - the popularity of "Paul Ryan shirtless" - or superfluous - how the number of searches of a candidate in a region corresponds to their popularity in said area - there are some useful tidbits to be pulled for the campaigns, particularly in terms of voter turn-out. Says Stephens-Davidowitz:

If search rates for voting information were higher in the first half of October 2008 than in the first half of October 2004, voting rates tended to be higher in 2008 than in 2004. It's true for midterm elections, too. If search rates for voting information were higher in the first half of October 2010 than in the first half of October 2006, voting rates tended to be higher in 2010 than in 2006.

This predictive power was significantly stronger than that of other variables we might use to predict area-level turnout, like changes in registration rates or movement in early voting.


Of course, there's plenty of garbage to sift through as well, as Stephens-Davidowitz notes, including searches about Romney and Mormon underwear as well as Obama and racist epithets. Still, once you look past the noise, there may just be some patterns worth teasing out, adding to the stacks of numbers already being crunched for November 6.

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Photos by Jack Dempsey/Invision for Cheetos/AP Images

Politics in America can be and often is ridiculous. Now you can officially vote for ridiculous. Cheets has hit the campaign trail. From the press release:

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are immortalized in 3 feet by 4 feet portraits made entirely of more than 2,000 Cheetos cheese snacks apiece by Colorado Springs, Colo. artist, Jason Baalman. Today, the Cheetos brand unveiled a new electoral polling model with the unveiling of 3 feet by 4 feet one-of-a-kind Cheetos portraits of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees - President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Debuting on Facebook today at 11 a.m. CT, fans are encouraged to vote for their candidate's portrait - made entirely of more than 2,000 individual Cheetos cheese snacks - for a chance to win the actual portrait.

Head to their Facebook page to cast your vote. It will be interesting to see if this election gets better turnout than the actual presidential contest.