No campaigning, no problem for Davis

Opponents cry fowl as incumbent looks to cruise to victory on Nov. 6

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By JOHN SANTORE

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis has no paid campaign staff.

His volunteer coordinator said that 80 percent of the phone calls made at campaign headquarters are directed not to 7th District constituents in south and west Chicago area, but to Iowa on behalf of Barack Obama.

The campaign website for Davis (D-7th) features links for donations, volunteering, and news, but all lead to blank pages. Davis has not debated either of his challengers, Republican Rita Zak or independent John Monaghan. He has just five campaign events scheduled between now and Election Day.

And if recent history is any guide, on Nov. 6 he will win his 9th term in Congress with more than 80 percent of the vote. Rita Zak insists Chicago machine politics are at play.

"It's so undemocratic here, in the 7th especially," Zak said. "The gerrymandering is just - there are no words to explain it."

Such races are rarely competitive, with districts often weighted in one party's favor, according to Laurel Harbridge, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University who studies congressional elections.

"People have very little information about congressional candidates. So basically voters are using party identification as a cue for whom to vote for much of the time," Harbridge said.

But Davis' team argues that the lack of traditional activities on behalf of the congressman proves how closely he's tied to constituents.

"The congressman has specifically rejected the notion that you run for office starting on the day when you start collecting petitions and ending when you get elected to office," said Ira Cohen, Davis' longtime director of issues and communications. Davis, he added, doesn't believe "that you parachute into the district, that you get people to vote for you, and then you go to Washington and do your voting."

"If he could stick his voting card into a machine here in Chicago, he'd probably do that because he would be able to spend more time with his constituents," Cohen said.

Political campaigns respond to competition, a factor which doesn't apply to Davis. Neither Zak nor independent John Monaghan have filed fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission, a requirement for any candidate who has spent or raised over $5,000. Davis, by contrast, has raised nearly $350,000.

Zak's effort is headquartered out of her husband's dental office on Michigan Avenue. But nothing would indicate her presence there, besides a few small stacks of campaign literature and business cards.

Monaghan's headquarters is Rose's Boutique in Oak Park, where he gives verbose interviews while surrounded by shampoo, deodorant, and devotional bibles. Neither Monaghan nor Zak have campaign staffs or regular volunteers, and both are campaigning sporadically.

Cohen estimates that around 300 people volunteered for Davis' last primary. They reportedly registered approximately 800 voters, many from low-income areas with minimal voter turnouts.

But neither Cohen nor Crystal Overton, Davis' volunteer coordinator, could provide lists of people regularly volunteering for Davis. Overton said she didn't train volunteers on how to discuss the congressman's record. Davis also doesn't have a dedicated field coordinator, a key role in campaigns.

Cohen noted that Davis is backed by numerous local Democratic candidates who independently advocate for him. Cohen highlighted ongoing activities Davis conducts that revolve around volunteers, such as his annual State of the District conferences featuring presentations from committees composed of local residents.

"How do you measure those kinds of contributions?" Cohen said.

As for Davis avoiding debates, Cohen denies that charge leveled by opponents.

"We're easy to find, and they've been impossible to find," he said. "And if they really had something to debate, I think the congressman would be happy to debate them."

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