A black candidate for Illinois State Senate has made national news claiming that racism was behind a challenge to her candidacy.
Cedra Crenshaw, an accountant and self-described "mom versus the machine," is a Republican with ties to the Tea Party. Prominent conservatives, including Andrew Breitbart, have used Crenshaw's story to counter allegations of racism in right-wing political circles.
To run for Illinois state Senate, candidates need 1,000 petition signatures, and usually collect significantly more to avoid the possibility of being eliminated by challenge. Crenshaw was able to collect 2,100. But the Will County Electoral Board removed her from the ballot anyway, as the Chicago Tribune reports:
The Electoral Board voted 2-1 to remove Crenshaw because her forms stated that signatures could be collected no earlier than 90 days before the filing deadline. A new state law requires that signatures be collected no earlier than 75 days before the deadline.
Because her petition -- an older copy of the form -- said it could be circulated earlier than is legally allowed, the Board ruled it possible that she could have gotten an unfair head start on signatures. Crenshaw argues that she has evidence that she only began circulating 19 days before the deadline, making the technicality irrelevant, but that the Board didn't hear this evidence.
In response, Crenshaw took to the airwaves with an angry radio commercial:
She also wrote a guest post on BigGovernment.com, Andrew Breitbart's conservative blog, arguing that her elimination was an example of "racial politics played by the Chicago Machine Democrats."
The post coincided with the NAACP's passage of a resolution denouncing the Tea Party for "explicitly racist behavior." The title of Crenshaw's post was "Chicago Machine Democrats Deserve NAACP Condemnation, Not Tea Party," and, aside from the title's confusing grammar, her message was clear:
Chicago Machine Democrats claim to be the party of diversity and inclusion, yet if you are a Black, conservative Republican mother, with a professional background in accounting, supported by the tea party movement, Chicago Machine Democrats do not encourage this type of diversity. Instead they unjustly knock you off the ballot and then talk about the lack of diversity in the Republican party and the tea party movement. The NAACP plays right into this scam.
Breitbart himself picked up on this theme in a Fox News segment, arguing that the Democrats are using the NAACP and claims of racism as a political distraction. (Scroll down to watch the clip.)
"Cedra Crenshaw is the Tea Party candidate in Joliet, Illinois. The Chicago machine took her off of the ballot," Breitbart said. "They do not want to have a black conservative running, because it undermines their desire to -- in a summer of bad economics, to create division in this country because they're so fearful of what's going to happen in November."
Locally, the Tribune editorial board has gotten in on the action, saying that Crenshaw's opponent A.J. Wilhelmi "is an incumbent in what would usually be considered a safe district, but voters are fed up. Democratic leaders apparently like their chances better in the courtroom than in the voting booth."
And Kristen McQueary at the Southtown Star wrote sardonically, "More and more, incumbents expect to be carried through campaign season on chariots. Perhaps we can kiss their rings as they careen down the next parade route."
But she and Rich Miller of the Capitol Fax, a prominent state politics blog, agree that the challenge to Crenshaw's candidacy seems more motivated by politics than race.
"The Republicans are pretty sure they'll win this on appeal," Miller writes. "They may be right, but the red-hot racial rhetoric and the mindless Tribune rants really need to be toned down in the meantime. The Democrats didn't challenge Crenshaw's petitions because she was black, they challenged the petitions because she's a Republican. Period."
Whatever the motivation, Crenshaw -- if she can return to the ballot -- faces an uphill battle in November. No matter her claims, echoed by the Trib, that the Democrats are scared of her candidacy, the district is solidly blue. Wilhelmi won 70 percent of the vote in his last race, and even in as bad a year for Democrats as 2004, John Kerry won nearly 60 percent of the district's votes.
How far the racial brouhaha will take her candidacy remains to be seen.
Watch Breitbart on FOX News (skip to 5:10 to see his mention of Crenshaw):