Is there room for another heel in the Illinois governor’s race?
Former pro wrestler Jon “The Illustrious One” Stewart says yes — and he’s looking to put his rivals for the Libertarian Party nomination in a half nelson, then body-slam Bruce Rauner and whoever the Democrats select in the general election.
“Politics is wrestling with suits and ties on,” Stewart, 50, told Chicago Inc. “I’m comfortable on a mic, and I’m not afraid to tell the truth.”
It isn’t The Illustrious One’s first run for elected office. Back in 1997, he unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the state House on the North Shore — with a little help from President Donald Trump‘s counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“I was her first political client,” said Stewart, who lives in Deerfield and now runs his family’s used-car dealership. “She’s probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met so I’m not surprised she has got to where she is.
“I’m a little like her — we both speak our minds, and sometimes we might speak out of turn, but we are not afraid.”
But by Stewart’s own admission, the best-known episode of his colorful life came in 2006 when he was mistaken for longtime “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart by a high school in Utah that accidentally booked him for a fundraising gala.
Stewart later took an unsuccessful stab at running for Congress as a Republican, before a falling-out with the late then-Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka led him to join the Libertarians in 2011.
Like Conway, Stewart remains a fan of Trump, who himself has dabbled in the pro-wrestling world. Stewart said he voted for Trump after previously backing Barack Obama because Trump is a necessary “Molotov cocktail thrown into the system in Washington, D.C.”
That could cause problems for Stewart at the state Libertarian convention in March 2018, when party members will select their candidate in a caucus and might hold Stewart’s failure to support Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson against him.
Two other Libertarian candidates, Matt Scaro and Kash Jackson, have also announced runs, and Illinois Libertarian Party Chairman Lex Green said Stewart “has to overcome” the irritation of party workers who spent $100,000 getting Johnson on the ballot in Illinois.
“But Jon is a good candidate, and there are many pragmatic libertarians who may be able to look past that,” Green said.
Stewart is hoping that policies including a Trump-like plan to send 300 federal officers into Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood to combat violence and replacing pensions with 401(k)s for new government hires will sway voters.
And he pointed to the 1998 election of former wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura as governor of Minnesota, as well as Trump’s recent victory, as evidence of an enduring appetite for outsider candidates.
“When I first ran in the North Shore, I think most people were expecting a bleached blond guy in a leather motorcycle vest to show up, so they were surprised to find someone in a shirt who was engaged on the issues,” Stewart said.
Though his campaign doesn’t have much money, car dealers across the state have vowed to back him, he said, adding that people who underestimate him will be “surprised.”
“The state’s politics aren’t working — it’s surreal at this point,” he said. “How can the Democrats and the Republicans say, ‘Give us one more chance?'”