Slicing Up the 5th

Complex equations could yield surprise winner

A crowded field like that of the special election in the 5th congressional district vying to replace Rahm Emanuel can result in all kinds of strange permutations when the vote is finally tallied.

With so many candidates splitting so many demographic voting blocs, it doesn't take that many folks pulling the lever for you to sneak in. Let's take a look.

The big dogs in the race are state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, state Rep. John Fritchey, and Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley.

Feigenholtz is aggressively targeting women voters, which gives her an advantage because it's the biggest voting bloc out there and includes so many other micro-blocs. Irish women are still women; union women are still women; women lawyers are still women. But no voting bloc is monolithic. (And she's not the only Democratic woman in the race; but geez, note how Jan Donatelli cops the Obama logo for her own.)

Despite the fact that Tom Geoghegan is a nationally noted labor lawyer and author, Fritchey appears to have the most union support - though the SEIU is backing Feigenholtz (along with Emily's List, which makes one wonder why she felt the need to loan her campaign $100,000).

Fritchey, whose reputation as a reformer has been dinged up a bit in this race, is also backed by a number of elected officials and the internal Democratic party structure, which seems split between him and Feigenholtz.

Quigley is the candidate the reform crowd - and the newspaper editorial boards - is backing; at least those too chicken to line up behind Geoghegan. Feigenholtz and Fritchey have attacked Quigley's reform credentials, but that's only made them seem less worthy in the eyes of those in-the-know. But are there enough reform votes in the 5th to push Quigley through? 

It depends on the math.

Ald. Patrick O'Connor, for example, is appealing to his Irish and Machine base. He won't take votes from Quigley, but will he skim votes from Feigenholtz and Fritchey? 

Geoghegan, on the other hand, is backed by the Progressive Democrats of America, the netroots, and an impressive roster of national writes, including James Fallows, Mickey Kaus, Thomas Frank and David Sirota. Local figures such as Abner Mikva, Leon Despres, Quentin Young, and former Ald. Marty Oberman are also in Geoghegan's corner.) He will take votes away from Quigley.

With all this vote-splitting going on, Victor Forys is trying to get enough Polish voters to the polls to sneak through.

Forys is one of three doctors in the race - Carlos Monteagudo and Paul Bryar are the others - so there goes the medical bloc. (And while Feigenholtz is emphasizing health care, Forys, Monteagudo and Geoghegan are talking about single-payer universal health insurance - for better and worse.)

Meanwhile, University of Chicago economist Charles Wheelan is a visible presence in well-placed Google ads, though he isn't likely to take votes from Geoghegan. He is an economist, though, and he's probably worked out some formula for how he can cobble together enough votes to come out on top.

There are others in the race, nibbling at the edges, and if you want true change you might think about voting for one of the five Green candidates in the race, though that's presumably taking votes away from Geoghegan and maybe Quigley (often called the "greenest" public official in Chicago.)

There are also six Republicans running, but that basically constitutes half of all Republicans in the district. Maybe they take some votes away from Wheelan.

So who will come out on top? Whoever has done the best job figuring out the math.

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