GRANITE CITY, Ill. (AP) — An avid foe of abortion, retired obstetrics nurse Angela Michael pressed her cause for decades in relative obscurity, even as she deployed unsettling images of aborted fetuses at protests to make her point.
The self-described conservative, who has voted almost exclusively in Republican primaries for two decades, now is targeting a broader platform with a quixotic campaign as a Democrat trying to unseat longtime GOP Rep. John Shimkus.
She got her name onto next week's ballot by running unopposed in the primary. Establishment Democrats opted against challenging the 16-year incumbent in eastern Illinois, in part because once-a-decade political redistricting made it particularly difficult this year.
Michael, 57, gives herself only a 'snowball's chance in Hades' of pulling off the stunning upset. But in recent days, she has begun running TV campaign spots in the St. Louis television market that include some of the gruesome fetus images, despite reporting only a few hundred dollars on her campaign finance filings.
'I felt like I have to be this voice that gets this message out (about abortion). Then I can shake the dust and say I've done everything I can,' said Michael, who advanced to the Nov. 6 general election after running unopposed in the Democratic primary in March.
Democratic leaders say they have mostly ignored her candidacy, insisting they do not think voters would confuse her campaign with the regular Democratic platform.
'We have absolutely nothing to do with her,' added Jim Stack, chairman of the Democratic Party in Madison County, just east of St. Louis. 'Most people know what she's doing.'
Others say the race, and lack of a bona fide Democratic candidate, has deprived voters of a real choice.
'This is out of the ordinary,' said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, who says Michael poses no threat to Shimkus. 'If Democrats aren't willing to field a serious candidate, something like this is going to happen.'
Michael insists 'the abortion holocaust' is 'the issue of our time,' trumping concerns about the U.S. economy. Her 15th Congressional District campaign reported just $490 in the bank as of mid-October, compared to Shimkus' war chest topping $1 million.
Shimkus is an Army veteran who after 16 years in Congress now seeks the seat in the newly drawn, sprawling House district encompassing more than 30 counties from Ford County in the north of Massac County along the Ohio River on Illinois' southern tip. A Republican has held the seat for all but two years since 1939, before World War II.
National political parties have ignored the race, choosing instead to target their financial clout in other Illinois districts where the outcome could sway partisan control of the House in January.
Shimkus, who opposes abortion except in cases when the pregnant mother's health is endangered, calls Michael 'a fervent, devoted pro-life activist, and she doesn't disappoint in that area.'
'I do think Angela is using this to continue to promote her pro-life cause and message,' he said.
Michael has been a fixture outside the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, where her Small Victories pregnancy outreach ministry for the past two decades has included picketing and encouraging patients to change their minds. She even has photographed those women, posting their pictures on her website.
Madison County records show she took a Democratic ballot during the March primary to vote for herself, marking the first time since 1992 she hasn't voted GOP in a primary. She sat out the 2000 election.
Democratic Party chiefs in the district say they don't worry her stance against abortion — which contradicts the party's platform — could confuse voters about the party's standing on the topic.
'I have no concerns of that whatsoever. Categorically, no,' said Paul Wieck, the Democratic head in east-central Illinois' Coles County. 'Her views are so different from Democrats. She's basically a one-issue candidate as far as I can tell.'
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