Rookie candidate struggles for legitimacy

GOP reluctant to embrace Griffin

ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- A 28-year old political newcomer is pleading for his chance to represent the Illinois' GOP in a difficult challenge against popular incumbent Secretary of State Jesse White; an undefeated Democrat who has won five consecutive terms in landslide victories. 

But in his ambitious grasp at the future, Josh Griffin can't seem to shake free from his past. 

"As an adult, I made a decision the Democratic Party no longer espoused my values," Griffin says of his upbringing in Cook County. 

After a months-long courtship of Republican leaders, Griffin has struggled to convince skeptical party operatives that he's not a Democratic plant. Some Republicans, squeamish of Griffin's background, expressed private concerns he may have been dispatched to sabotage the primary process and leak electoral battle plans back to his former employers. 

Griffin claims he was "indoctrinated in religious services, indoctrinated in the public schools" to be a Democrat. "These areas I grew up in are controlled by the Democratic Party," he says, claiming  his parents would face harassment if they dared vote Republican.

"You couldn't get a job if you didn't punch a Democratic ballot," he says. 

While his Blue-to-Red conversion story might offer hope to weary Republicans that seeds of their message are starting to take hold in stony ground, Griffin's actual résumé reads more like a Proftian voodoo doll collection

Before working as a small business diversity officer in Governor Pat Quinn's Department of Transportation, Griffin worked for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley, and as a teenager, he was a student intern for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s congressional campaign. 

"Me and him built a relationship that I've had since I was 16," Griffin said of the Congressman turned convict. 

As recently as 2015, Griffin worked on the campaign of State Senator Mike Hastings, a Democrat from Tinley Park. Griffin blasted his former boss, saying "Mike Hastings is insulated in the system."

Griffin claims Hastings dismissed several of his ethical concerns during the campaign, and claims Hastings told him, "This is how the game goes. Learn it or get out." 

Hastings responded, "I think Josh Griffin is a smart, capable young man. It has been my experience that when things in life may not go the way you had hoped, especially when you are young, you tend to lash out at others. His accusations are baseless, but I wish him luck in his future political endeavors."

Hastings is simultaneously circulating petitions in advance of a potential run as either Secretary of State or Attorney General, but has not yet announced his campaign plans. 

Other Democrats who worked briefly with Griffin describe him as someone frustrated with a lack of progress and opportunity. Some insinuated he may have left for greener pastures after finding few prospects for promotion within party ranks. 

"I decided to leave not because there were no opportunities for me," Griffin shot back, "but because there are no opportunities for a black man in this state," emphasizing that decades of Democratic rule have resulted in economic despair in the black community.

Griffin says Illinois Democrats have "capitalized off of the oppression for political capital," alleging that House Speaker Michael Madigan, gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and his running mate Julianna Stratton are slow or unwilling to speak out against policies harmful to the black community because "this is the party we've invested in." 

"If you're disenfranchised in Illinois and still voting Democrat, it's your fault," Griffin says. 

The Pritzker campaign did not respond to request for comment.

Griffin has managed to convince some individual Republican State Central Committee members to back his candidacy, but he alienated others when he jumped the gun in an ill-advised tweet which inaccurately claimed he had won the nomination of the full committee. Griffin issued a retraction on his website after several members insisted they were still undecided. 

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