07/22/2010 12:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cedra Crenshaw On Ballot: Judge Rules Black Tea Party Candidate's Petitions Valid

An Illinois judge ruled that a darling of the national Tea Party will be on the ballot in the Illinois State Senate race, despite Democrats' attempts to knock her out.

Cedra Crenshaw, a black conservative running in a suburban district southwest of Chicago, will challenge incumbent Democrat A.J. Wilhelmi in November.

The Democratic Party tried to invalidate Crenshaw's nominating petitions by way of a technicality--which has come back to bite them. Elections lawyers, including Michael Kasper, a favorite of Chicago Democrats, challenged her candidacy, saying that she might have had an unfair head-start on gathering signatures. Crenshaw argued that she was only nominated by the Republican Party 19 days before the filing deadline, so there's no way she could have taken advantage of the error.

The majority-Democratic Will County Elections Board ruled 2-1 that her petitions were invalid.

Attempts by Democrats to knock Crenshaw off the ballot proved to be a miscalculation that was compounded by some very poor timing.

Crenshaw's appeal of the Elections Board decision came just as the Tea Party was sparring with the NAACP over accusations of racism. She argued that the objection to her candidacy -- aside from being a product of the "Chicago machine," thanks to Kasper's involvement -- was racially motivated, and the Tea Party was looking to show that it had black friends.

So Crenshaw became thrust into the national spotlight. She was mentioned by Andrew Breitbart on a FOX News segment, and ultimately appeared on "Fox and Friends" as a victim of Chicago Democratic politics.

Now, Will County Circuit Judge Bobbi Petrungaro has overruled the Elections Board, allowing Crenshaw onto the ballot.

Suddenly, a completely unknown conservative in a very blue district is a candidate with a national platform and wide name recognition. In a press release, the Crenshaw campaign gleefully wrote, "Today, the court spoke and the Wilhelmi machine lost. Good government and the rule of law won the first battle."

Kyle Olson of Breitbart's, the site that helped launch the Crenshaw story, writes, "If wording on a petition could defeat Crenshaw, then Democrats and power brokers in Chicago and Springfield wouldn't have to answer to voters for their record. So sad, Machine: Crenshaw will be given the opportunity to hold the entrenched power to account."

But Wilhelmi himself, who won 70 percent of the vote in his last election, hardly seems fazed. From a press release:

A Will County judge placed Wilhelmi's opponent on the ballot today, overturning a previous decision by the Will County Board of Elections. Senator Wilhelmi said he is happy to move past this distraction and to start focusing on the issues that are important to his constituents in Will County.

"I'm looking forward to a substantive campaign that addresses the serious issues facing the state of Illinois," Wilhelmi said. "We have serious challenges in Illinois right now, and we need lawmakers who are serious about solving them. I look forward to discussing my plans with the people of my district."

Wilhelmi has a point: now that she's on the ballot, and the media frenzy is likely to die down, Crenshaw will have to see if her conservative credentials will play in the heavily Democratic 43rd District. But thanks to the Democrats' challenge, she's got the name recognition get her message out.