Sauer's resignation doesn't guarantee a Democratic win in 51st District race

 
 
Updated 8/2/2018 7:28 PM
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  • Former state Rep. Nick Sauer

    Former state Rep. Nick Sauer

  • Mary Edly-Allen, a Democratic Party candidate for the state House 51st District seat

    Mary Edly-Allen, a Democratic Party candidate for the state House 51st District seat

Lake Barrington Republican Nick Sauer's resignation from the state House after a bombshell revelation involving nude photos of an ex-girlfriend doesn't necessarily hand his 51st District seat to the Democrats.

There's some precedent. In 2016, the GOP was able to hold onto the 81st House District post with a new candidate after state Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove abruptly resigned because of his own salacious scandal just months before the election.

On top of that, the 51st District is a historically Republican post. Democrats didn't field a candidate in the last three elections.

Mary Edly-Allen, a teacher and political newcomer from Libertyville, is the Democratic Party nominee this year. Republican leaders have a few weeks to name a new candidate to run against her.

Illinois political expert Kent Redfield doubts the seat will shift from red to blue in November.

"But you never say never," said Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield.

Sauer stepped down Wednesday after Politico reported a former girlfriend has accused him of creating an Instagram account and posting nude photos of her to lure men into graphic discussions.

In a letter to House leaders, Sauer said he resigned because his ability to fulfill his legislative obligations "will be affected by the distraction of addressing these allegations."

Sauer couldn't be reached for additional comment Thursday.

Sauer's immediate successor in the legislature will be selected by a group formed by Lake County Republican Party leader Mark Shaw and Barrington Township Republican committeeman Chris Geissler, representing the small Cook County portion of the 51st District.

Shaw doesn't know if the GOP will nominate the same person to run in November, which is a separate process. Shaw plans to consult Republican House Leader Jim Durkin on the decisions.

Republican officials typically would seek applicants, Shaw said. But time is short because ballots must be finalized and certified by Aug. 30.

The quality of the candidate will matter in November, Redfield said. Republicans should avoid appointing someone who's a Trump supporter or who is out of step with the district on social issues, Redfield said.

"As long as the Republican officials doing the appointing focus on winning rather than seeking ideological advantage within their party, this should not happen," he said.

A nominee with name recognition through prior public service would help, too, Redfield said, as would choosing a female nominee.

Sauer isn't the first Illinois legislator to quit with an election just months away.

Sandack resigned the 81st District seat after trying to avoid disclosure of an inappropriate online video conversation. Police later revealed Sandack paid an extortionist $3,000 to keep that conversation from going public.

Republican leaders named David Olsen to replace Sandack in the House. Olsen won election that November and is up for re-election this year.

State Sen. Terry Link, the leader of Lake County's Democratic organization, is more optimistic about his party's chances in the 51st District this year.

Even before Sauer's resignation, Link said, anti-Republican sentiment has been growing in Lake County. There's significant displeasure on both sides of the aisle with the job performances of Republican President Donald Trump and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, he said, and that's going to help Democratic candidates.

"I think (the 51st District) is very, very much in play," Link said.

Redfield disagreed.

Although Lake County has been trending more Democratic in the past 20 years, the 51st District was drawn to favor Republicans after the 2010 U.S. Census, Redfield said -- so much so that Sauer ran unopposed in 2016 and his predecessor, Ed Sullivan Jr., ran unopposed in 2014 and 2012.

The last Democrat to run for the seat, Steve Riess, was crushed by Sullivan in 2010, collecting less than 31 percent of votes cast.

Edly-Allen didn't run in the March primary for the 51st District seat -- no Democrats did. She was nominated afterward by the party.

Edly-Allen doesn't consider that a shortcoming.

"I chose to do this to be an example to the many strong and passionate women like me who never saw themselves as running for office," she said Thursday.

Independent Jay Murphy of North Barrington also is running for the seat, but challenges have been filed against his candidacy.

• Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke contributed to this report.

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