In the end, Dan Hynes' political pedigree did him remarkably little good in his quest for the U.S. Senate, providing what Democratic politicians said Wednesday was just the latest bit of proof that the party machine is no longer the centrally controlled monolith it once was.
Hynes, the son of veteran Democratic powerbroker Thomas Hynes, was able to garner little more than 15 percent of the votes cast in the city despite backing from party ward organizations scattered throughout the South and North Sides that still have reputations for having some muscle.
Hynes won only four of Chicago's 50 wards. In the 19th Ward, the Southwest Side enclave that is his family's political power base, he attracted just 51 percent of the vote despite a spirited organization effort to make a good showing.
"The once-vaunted 19th Ward organization barely carried its own son," scoffed a Democratic committeeman from the North Side. "You would think it would have gotten 75 or 80 percent" of the vote for Hynes.
A generation ago, under the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, the party organization was a formidable political presence that controlled the fate of elections with an iron grip.
Daley's son, the current Mayor Richard Daley, contends he no longer wields that kind of might. That is debatable. But what is clear is that, while Daley has great power to bring ward bosses into line behind candidates of his choosing, he is far pickier than his father in choosing which election battles he will fight. Typically, he sticks to ward aldermanic races.
With polls showing growing support for Barack Obama, there was little politically for the mayor to gain by backing Hynes despite long-standing ties to his father. And from all appearances, Daley stayed out of the senatorial fray.
The mayor said Wednesday that he didn't glean anything profound from the Hynes flop in traditional Democratic strongholds. "He just didn't get any votes," Daley said, stating the obvious.
A vivid example of that was in the 8th Ward, controlled by Cook County Board President John Stroger, who backed Hynes. Still, Hynes attracted fewer than 700 votes in the mostly African-American ward, swamped by winner Obama's nearly 16,000.
Even in the Northwest Side's 45th Ward, where Cook County Democratic Chairman Thomas Lyons, a Hynes supporter, is the committeeman, Obama got more votes.
"I think they were just overpowered," said Ed Kelly, the longtime boss of the North Side's 47th Ward who is retiring as its Democratic committeeman. "You don't have the organizations working like they used to."
Party veterans say that the lack of city jobs--partly the result of the federal Shakman decree that bans most political hiring, and in more recent times, partly the result of tough economic times at City Hall--has shrunk the ranks of good precinct captains and other workers.
"People don't take orders anymore," commented a Democratic consultant close to the Hynes campaign. "It's very difficult to push."
And "there is no discipline in the party," Kelly complained. "I don't mean threatening people. I mean getting people together, sitting down and trying to motivate them" on behalf of a consensus candidate.
Indeed, Ald. Edward Burke (14th), a natural Hynes ally otherwise, is in a ward that now is predominantly Latino instead of Irish-American. With Burke's support, candidate Gery Chico garnered nearly two of every three votes cast.
Meanwhile, powerful Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) backed Blair Hull, a strong financial supporter of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Mell's son-in-law. So did U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), committeeman of the 2nd Ward, who once was challenged for his House seat by Obama.
But Obama was the top vote-getter in both wards, something that illustrates another reason for Hynes' poor showing in strong organization wards, veteran politicians said.
Obama simply "is a good candidate, flat out," declared Ald. Thomas Murphy (18th), who supported Hynes. "I think the people spoke pretty decisively [Tuesday]."
"I think there was a tsunami out there for Barack Obama across the state and in the city of Chicago that completely overwhelmed any organization," said David Axelrod, the winner's chief strategist. "I think people came out on their own because they wanted to vote for this attractive candidate they liked. And there was no organization that was going to stop them from doing it."
The eastern portion of the 19th Ward has a heavily African-American population, which contributed to Obama's strong showing on Hynes turf.
"What happened [in some strong organization wards] is what happened everywhere," said Matt Hynes, the candidate's brother and his campaign manager. "A good candidate and a good campaign got a lot of momentum. It is a credit to their campaign and what they were able to capitalize on."
Some veteran politicians said that ward organizations may have influence in lesser races, but it's another story when it comes to offices such as president and U.S. senator.
Candidates in those contests can appeal directly to voters, "bombarding them with commercials" to deliver their messages, Mell said.
"If you're running for judge or you're running for sanitary district commissioner or any number of other down-ballot offices, having the Democratic organization's support is helpful. It is less consequential in a race in which there is a ton of information available to voters and they're getting a lot of recommendations from other sources."