The head of the Illinois Republican Party said on Thursday that he’s doing “whatever it takes” to stop a white supremacist and former member of the American Nazi Party from securing votes in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.
During a morning press conference, party leaders said they are taking the “unprecedented step” of funding and endorsing a primary candidate in one of the state’s heavily Democratic districts in order to stop candidate Art Jones.
Jones, who denies the Holocaust happened, is running in the March 17 GOP primary to try and get the Republican party’s nomination.
“Arthur Jones is a neo-Nazi, an anti-Semite and a Holocaust-denier,” said state party chairman Tim Schneider. “He is not a Republican. He has no place in a civil society.”
The effort to stymie Jones’ candidacy comes as the party recovers from national embarrassment in 2018 when he was the only Republican candidate on the primary ballot in the 3rd Congressional District, which covers parts of Chicago’s Southwest Side and southwest suburbs. Despite his extreme views, Jones went on to secure nearly 60,000 votes in the general election.
In that election, Jones lost to Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, who was elected to the district 16 years ago after his father represented it for 22 years.
The heavily Democratic district, which the state GOP contends is gerrymandered to favor Democrats, has made party leaders weary of investing resources in the district. They also contend that’s made it difficult to find qualified candidates.
“There aren’t very many people who want to go to the time and effort to become the sacrificial lamb in these districts,” Schneider said in 2018 in response to criticism the party should have done more to stop Jones from making it to the general election.
At a press conference Thursday, Schneider changed his tone.
“We don't call any of our candidates sacrificial lambs,” he said. “We believe that each and every one of them has an opportunity.”
Schneider added he believes the party’s endorsed candidate, Will County Commissioner Mike Fricilone, will have a greater chance at victory in the general election if he’s running against progressive candidate Marie Newman, who’s challenging Lipinski in the Democratic primary.
“I don't think that this state and the people of the 3rd District want a socialist representing them,” Schneider said, referring to the progressive Newman.
The party would not say how much money it will spend to prop up Fricilone’s campaign, but said it’s mounting mail and digital campaigns and will be knocking on doors throughout the 3rd.
The announcement comes less than two weeks before voters head to the polls in Illinois’ March 17 primary.
Republican primary voters there will choose between Art Jones, Mike Fricilone and a third candidate, real estate broker Catherine O’Shea, whom the party said it does not support because of her previous time as a registered Democrat.
Art Jones has run for office in the 3rd District numerous times stretching back to at least the 1990s. The Lyons, Ill., insurance agent is a former leader of the American Nazi Party. He featured pictures of himself addressing an Aryan Nations World Congress on his 2018 campaign website and says that "race mixing [is] against the laws of nature and God."
Party officials say they’ve successfully knocked him out of the race in previous years by challenging his signatures, but that he’s “gotten better at getting himself on a ballot.”
“He's like the cockroach that has evolved,” Cook County Party Chairman Sean Morrison said. “He's a cockroach that knows how to get perfect signatures, and there's nothing we can do.”
Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.