By Jamey Dunn
With several congressional seats in play, big money has been thrown into Illinois races and big-name politicians are making pitches for candidates as part of the national battle over the U.S. House.
U.S. House Races
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican from McHenry, may lose his seat to
Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth from Hoffman Estates. The race has been close, but Duckworth, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has pulled ahead in the polls in recent weeks.
U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, a Republican from Kenilworth, is running for reelection in a highly Democratic district created under the recent remap. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who is recovering from a recent stroke, has come out in support of Dold and appeared in a campaign ad. Dold faces Democratic candidate Brad Schneider, a businessman from Deerfield. Kirk was able to hold his U.S. House seat in a similar district for years before he ran for U.S. Senate.
Kirk also appeared in an online video to throw his support behind Republican U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale. Former President Bill Clinton voiced a robocall in support of Democratic challenger Bill Foster, a scientist from Naperville. Foster served previously in the U.S. House after being elected in 2008. He lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010.
Bill Enyart, a Democrat from Belleville, if facing off against former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Jason Plummer from Fairview Heights. Plummer, a naval officer who works for his family’s lumber and hardware store chain, had an early lead in the polls. But according to some recent polling, Enyart, former head of the Illinois National Guard, appears to have bounced back. Those who have been keeping tabs on this race expect it to be close. “When it’s very close, it all comes down to which side does a better job on turning out their troops, and I’m not clear what the prospects there are,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. Both Kirk and Clinton have recorded robocalls to support their partys' candidates in the race. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, who is retiring this year, held his seat in this area for more than 24 years.
After U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson announced his plans to retire, Republicans chose Rodney Davis, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, to run in the district. David Gill, a doctor from Bloomington, won out in the Democratic primary. John Hartman, an Edwardsville resident and chief financial officer of a genetic research company, is running as an independent. This has been a close race, but some observers are predicting a Davis win. “Davis should win because I think he is a much better fit for the [demographics of the] district,” said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling of Colona won his seat with backing from the Tea Party in 2010. Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos of East Moline is a former news reporter and East Moline City Council member. This is another close race, with Schilling leading in recent polls.
Jackson predicts that Illinois Democrats will make some gains in Congress, but he predicts that those victories will not turn be enough to place the party back in control of the U.S. House.
“I think Democrats are likely to pick up about three of the contested five [seats]. There are five for sure, maybe six, [seats in play],” he said. “But that won’t do it to take back the House.”’
Redfield agreed. He said that Democratic map makers in Illinois may have helped the party have a shot at more congressional seats, but many other states had Republicans in power for redistricting. “There are states where the Democrats are at as much of a disadvantage as the Republicans are here, in terms of who drew the map.”
Jackson also cautioned against seeing these races as just about the new map. He points to downstate races, such as the 12th District and the 13th District, where Democrats are putting up fights but in no way have a lock on the seats. “The ability to draw that map, though, is still just a marginal benefit,” he said. “It still didn’t make it a sure win for the Democrats.”
President Barack Obama is obviously favored to win his Democratic-leaning home state over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Redfield and Jackson both said it is unlikely that either candidate will have powerful enough coattails to decide down-ticket races. However, Jackson said that the presidential race has set the tone and issues for negative ads in congressional and state legislative races. “Everybody gets blasted by being associated with Obama or being associated with Romney,” he said. “It’s just a constant litany of the national ads adapted to the local races.”