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The Republican Party Can’t Escape the Fringe The Republican Party Can’t Escape the Fringe

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The Republican Party Can’t Escape the Fringe

A congressional candidate in Illinois is doing everything the party desperately wants to stop.

A man dressed as Capt. America holds a large American flag at a tea-party rally at the U.S. Capitol last June.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

photo of Matt  Berman
March 21, 2014

After a tight primary this week, the Illinois Republican Party has its candidate in the House race against Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky. And the party is really, really not happy about that.

"We called on her to drop out of the race in January," a spokesman for the state party tells National Journal. "We hope that she still does drop out of the race."

Why all the distancing? Meet the candidate: Susanne Atanus, a politician who makes Todd Akin look like Fred Rogers.


Back in January, Atanus, who lost the GOP primary for the same seat in 2010 and 2012, told the editorial board of Chicago's Daily Herald she believes that God is punishing the United States for same-sex marriage.

"God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions," she said. "Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it's in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God."

God's wrath doesn't stop with the military and AIDS. According to Atanus, God's anger has also resulted in tornadoes, autism, and dementia. "Abortions should not be used for birth control," she added.

Those comments drew quick condemnation from the state's Republican Party. "Her candidacy is neither supported nor endorsed by the leaders of our party, and she should withdraw from the race immediately," Jack Dorgan, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said in January. The head of Chicago's Republican Party went further: "Atanus is not in any way affiliated with any of our efforts in the Chicago GOP, nor have we ever supported, endorsed, or assisted her in any way at any time."

Atanus stood by the statements. "I can't turn my eye and look the other way when I know that abortions, gay rights, and civil unions are making God very angry," she said in January. "I don't know why [state party officials] are not standing behind me."

Aside from social issues, Atanus' primary campaign was focused on an economic message that advocated for eliminating the U.S. stock exchanges. Her ideas, in short, are very far removed from what the establishment Republican Party is or wants to be. So how'd she actually win the primary Tuesday with no support from the party? Her Republican primary opponent, David Williams III, suspects Democratic meddling. "I do believe @janschakowsky is terrified of a Black Republican," Williams, who is a Black Republican, tweeted Wednesday. "So sending your supporters to vote for my primary opponent won't work."

Whatever the cause, Republicans are now in a place they had hoped to escape. Establishment Republicans have been desperately trying to avoid a repeat of Akin, the 2012 Missouri Senate candidate who set off a political horror circus when he tried to elaborate on different kinds of rape. In what is expected to be a good election year for Republicans, a highly visible political candidate espousing Akinian views could badly damage the party's efforts to expand its ranks.

It's highly unlikely that Atanus will defeat Schakowsky in the Illinois House race this year. The district, says the Cook Political Report, is solidly Democratic; President Obama won 65 percent of the vote there in 2012. No Republican stood a chance at taking the seat this year.

But just because Atanus won't likely win doesn't mean she isn't capable of creating a few headaches for the GOP. Several national news organizations are already giving Atanus the kind of attention a likely doomed House candidate rarely receives.

It's safe to assume the National Republican Congressional Committee won't go anywhere near Atanus this year. But when the party is trying to build a bigger base ahead of 2016, having a fringey reminder of 2012 hanging around doesn't help.

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