MERRILLVILLE – Every once in a while, an upstart candidate files for office, gets organized and shocks the electorate by beating an incumbent. It even has happened in Lake County where Democratic incumbents have little to worry about when it comes to re-election.

One of the most memorable election upsets came in 1978 when Jack Crawford stunned Lake County Democrats and ousted county Prosecutor Ray Sufana in the primary. Crawford was young, good-looking and had an army of volunteers knocking on doors around the county.

Chris Chyung thinks it can happen again. Chyung is the Democratic candidate for state representative in House District 15. Unlike Crawford, Chyung is facing an incumbent Republican in Rep. Hal Slager, who is seeking a fourth term. And House District 15 was tailor-made for Slager by the Republican-controlled General Assembly that drew new district lines following the 2010 census.

To a casual observer, it would be easy to think Chyung has a pretty good shot at pulling off an upset. While driving through the district that includes Dyer, Schererville and St. John as well as a piece of Griffith, the number of Chyung signs easily out paces those bearing Slager’s name. And Chyung ads frequently appear on cable television while Slager can’t be found on the airwaves.

While Chyung is young and energetic, Slager has the benefit of having been around for a good period. Prior to being elected to the legislature, Slager spent more than a decade on the Schererville Town Council. Slager also has defeated two prominent Lake County Democrats; in 2012, Slager edged Thomas O’Donnell whose Lake County Council district encompassed much of the 15th House District. Since then, Slager has trounced Jim Wieser, who now is county Democratic chairman, as well as beating O’Donnell a second time.

Not surprisingly, Chyung opposes the precinct consolidation engineered by Slager through special legislation. Chyung also embraces other Democratic issues such as jobs that can’t be outsourced, universal pre-kindergarten and transportation solutions to keep up with a growing community. He also has vowed not to take corporate money.

No one is saying Chyung is going to win – probably not even O’Donnell or Wieser. But, no one thought Jack Crawford was going to oust Ray Sufana 40 years ago. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.