Isaac Hayes, a conservative Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., is getting more attention lately — and not just because he shares a name with the soul legend known for the "Shaft" theme.
More revelations about Jackson's links to the corruption case of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and a relationship he had with a female "social acquaintance" have given Hayes an opening in the reliably Democratic and largely black district that Jackson won with nearly 90 percent of the vote two years ago.
Hayes suddenly is getting notice from national Republicans and is being mentioned often on black radio stations. While political experts see him as unlikely to score an upset in November, he could benefit from voter sentiment about Jackson's troubles.
"There has to be a change," Hayes said. "People are saying 'enough is enough.'"
Emma Pouncy, a 66-year-old retiree in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers Chicago's South Side and south suburbs, voted for Jackson over the years because of his work for a third area airport and because of his family's civil rights legacy, namely his father the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But now she says she won't vote at all, citing the Blagojevich corruption allegations and affair.
"He was dependable, everybody thought he was a nice guy," she said. "But things change. We can only take so much."
Hayes is trying to capitalize on Jackson's troubles; his website is called isaac4honesty.com. He bills himself as a "Booker T. Washington Republican" who is conservative on fiscal and social issues — he opposes abortion and gay marriage or civil unions — and as a fighter for civil rights.
The son of a minister, Hayes works at the massive Apostolic Church Of God on Chicago's South Side where 20,000 people are members and 7,000 regularly attend services. Hayes thinks he can win by appealing to devout Christians and independents.
"He's a new conservative African-American who is exactly what people are looking for in this environment," said Lee Roupas, chairman of Cook County Republicans. "Given the corruption, the lies, the scandals surrounding Jesse Jackson Jr., this is a race that we're taking seriously."
In an unusual move, the National Republican Congressional Committee last month named Hayes a candidate to watch in its "Young Guns" program — usually designated in districts that are more of a toss-up. For the first time, the black-owned Kankakee City News has endorsed Hayes over Jackson, citing the Blagojevich allegations.
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