Obama backs challenger over Dunkin in Democratic primary for state rep


President Barack Obama stops at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield following his speech at the Illinois State Capitol on Feb. 10. (TNS)

By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

In a rare political move, President Barack Obama has inserted himself in a Democratic state legislative primary race in his home state, backing challenger Juliana Stratton over Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago.

In a TV and radio ad, Obama says he learned from his days in Chicago that “follow-through is everything.”

“The people of Chicago deserve leaders who follow through. Juliana Stratton has spent her career serving our community, improving the juvenile justice system and protecting public safety,” Obama says in the TV ad. “Juliana will fight to get guns off our streets and fight for tougher penalties for violent offenders. I’m Barack Obama. I’m asking you to vote for Democrat Juliana Stratton for state representative.” 


Stratton is the union-backed opponent challenging Dunkin, who has been getting campaign help from allies of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Dunkin has broken ranks with Democrats on several Illinois House votes, denying House Speaker Michael Madigan a 71-vote veto-proof majority.

It is uncommon for a sitting president to get involved in a primary race of his own party, let alone for a lowly post of state lawmaker. But his involvement shows the intensity of the battle between Rauner and his union-weakening agenda and Democrats and their union allies who hold supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate.

During a February visit to Springfield, where he served as a state senator, Obama singled out Dunkin, a 13-year lawmaker, in a statehouse speech. Obama said reaching political compromise across the aisle “doesn’t make me a sellout to my own party.”

Dunkin jumped out of his chair and shouted “Yes!” before Obama cut him off. “We’ll talk later Dunkin. Sit down,” Obama said as Democrats — and even some Republicans — erupted into wild cheers. Dunkin later tried to portray Obama’s remark as the president agreeing with him.


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