By Jamey Dunn
Illinois Senate Races
The race between Sen. Mike Jacobs, a Democrat from East Moline, and Moline Republican Bill Albracht, a retired Secret Service agent, has become one of the most closely watched battles in the General Assembly and one that many say is too close to call. Jacobs has trailed in some recent polls, but Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, said he is not discounting the power of incumbency, or the fact that Jacobs is the son of a popular retired legislator, former Sen. Denny Jacobs. “It’s hard to know whether people will come home in terms of the name recognition and all of that with him,” Redfield said.
Republican Mark Minor, a pastor from Ewing, is challenging Sen. Gary Forby, a Benton Democrat. Forby has been pushing back against Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed closure of corrections facilities in his area. Most incumbent Democrats seem to be avoiding the unpopular governor from their party. However, Forby appears to be one of the only Democrats out there using the governor’s low favorability rating as a plus for his own campaign. “Quinn is a minus for everybody except Forby. He seems to be winning by running against the Democratic governor,” Redfield said.
Peoria Democratic Sen. David Koehler and Republican Pat Sullivan, a Peoria businessman, have spent almost $1.7 million total in their race. “I think Koehler is all right in the 46th [District], but [Republicans] certainly have spent money there,” Redfield said.
The most expensive Senate race is also one of the most closely watched. Democrat Andy Manar from Bunker Hill is chairman of the Macoupin County Board and former chief of staff for Senate President John Cullerton. He is running against Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy, a Republican. The two have spent nearly $2.5 million, and the race could break the all-time spending record for a state Senate contest.
Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski has faced a tough race against Republican Jim O’Donnell, a Park Ridge businessman.
Democrats had hoped to carve out a downstate House seat with this district, which includes parts of Springfield and Decatur, and it seems that they may succeed with candidate Sue Scherer, a teacher from Decatur. Scherer has been somewhat cagey with the media and has come under fire for her connections to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Despite the criticisms, she appears to be leading her opponent, Republican Dennis Shackleford, a Rochester businessman.
Former Rep. Derrick Smith, who was ousted from the House after being arrested on bribery charges, may be returning to that chamber in January. Smith was arrested a week before the primary election but still won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin. Democratic leaders had hopped he would step aside. After he refused, many backed third-party candidate Lance Tyson. But recent polling shows the Chicago lawyer trailing Smith.
The most expensive House race is a face off between Barrington Hills independent Dee Beaubien, the widow of the late Rep. Mark Beaubien, and Republican David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills businessman. Rep. Mark Beaubien, who died in June 2011, was a Republican known for crossing the aisle. Dee Beaubien said she ran because she was concerned about what she saw as the party’s shift to the extreme right. She has taken campaign funding from Democrats but has not said which party she would caucus with if elected.
Northbrook Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekrtiz, who has been a rising star among House Democrats, is facing a heated challenge from Johnathan Greenberg, a rabbi and advocate from Northbrook. Nekrtiz has backed budget cuts and spearheaded recent efforts at pension reforms. She is in a tight race against the self-described moderate Greenberg, who got his start in politics as Democrat.
Redfield said he does not expect Republicans to take the majority in either chamber. He said many Democratic incumbents who were facing tight races have pulled ahead in recent weeks. However, he said that state legislative races are difficult to gauge because unlike national races or races for Congress, almost all of the state-level polling is partisan and conducted by the candidates’ campaigns. “The best polling is the campaigns, but sometimes campaigns lie to themselves.”
Illinoisans will also decide whether the state should change its Constitution to make it more difficult to pass increases in pension benefits for state workers. The constitutional amendment that will appear before voters would require a three-fifths vote by the General Assembly to enhance public employee pension benefits. The amendment has been drawing fire lately and has found few supporters outside of the legislature. For a breakdown on what the amendment does and the arguments for and against it, see the current Illinois Issues.
A legal challenge also has been launched that would have a judge set aside the results of the vote on the proposed amendment. The plaintiffs argue that the wording on the ballot is unclear and could confuse voters. The instructions include language about a constitutional convention, which lawmakers say they did not intend to appear on the ballot unless voters have the option to call a convention. Voters do not have that option this year. For more on the lawsuit and instruction language, see the Illinois Issues blog.