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Illinois Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Illinois (08)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


November 19, 2008 Update:

Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean trounced her Republican rival and one-time professional hockey player Steve Greenberg by 20 percentage points. Greenberg was outraised more than 3 to 1.

June 3, 2008 Update:

Steve Greenberg became the poster-child for Republican challengers’ ineptitude when he reported just $5,000 in his campaign account at the end of April. He claimed to have spent March off the campaign trail, focusing on his business, but the GOP can’t afford any more lollygagging. Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean certainly hasn’t been taking any time off, reporting a fundraising total of $2.2 million, with a cash balance of over $1.3 million. To make matters worse, Greenberg lost his campaign manager and took over a month to replace him. After all that time, he settled for his former field coordinator, saying it was best to ”let our donors know that there’s somebody steering the ship.” Unfortunately for Greenberg, that ship is already way off course.


Background

Like her colleague Peter Roskam (R) to the south, Democratic Representative Melissa Bean’s 2008 reelection campaign will seem strangely familiar. Whereas Roskam faces down another Iraq war veteran, Bean, for the second cycle in a row, has drawn a highly-touted multimillionaire who is willing to self fund.

Stuart Greenberg, the owner of the Ben Franklin retail store chain, is this cycle’s Republican nominee after he passed on a tougher challenge to Senator Dick Durbin. Greenberg expects the race to cost between $5 and $6 million, which he is willing to pay from his own pockets. Self-funders like Greenberg are a godsend for the cash-strapped NRCC, but money alone may not be enough to knock off Bean who beat back the self-funded campaign of David McSweeney by an impressive seven percent in 2006.

Candidates

Melissa Bean (I) – Democrat – current Congresswoman
Website

Steve Greenberg – Republican – businessman
Website

Illinois (10)

Outlook: Toss-up


November 19, 2008 Update:

Republican Mark Kirk held off a challenge from Democrat Dan Seals to preserve his seat in the district by 10 percentage points. Seals had also lost to Kirk by six percentage points in 2006.

July 30, 2008 Update:

With Illinois uncontested statewide, suburban Chicago voters won’t get to see campaign ads from Barack Obama or John McCain this fall, but don’t be too disappointed. Come November, there’ll be plenty of fireworks when Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Dan Seals empty their impressive warchests on the airwaves. Both candidates are fundraising at a torrid pace and will need every penny in an expensive media market. Although Seals tops all Democratic challengers with $635K raised and $1.17 million banked in the second quarter, his tally pales in comparison to Kirk’s jaw-dropping $900K haul with over $2.85 million left in the bank! Kirk’s haul means that he’s capable of withstanding an Obama-fueled wave and winning reelection in the most difficult of conditions. Seals’ warchest, though impressive by national standards, keeps him within shouting distance for now, but Democrats may regret missing their chance surprise the incumbent in 2006. In Illinois, the presidential race will be a snoozer, but watch out when the congressional ads—and the dollars—begin to fly this fall.

June 3, 2008 Update:

Democrats are very optimistic about Dan Seals chances of unseating Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, but Kirk’s camp must be wondering why. Kirk released a poll, taken in mid-March following Seals’ primary victory a month earlier, that showed him with 50% to Seals’ 29% in a head-to-head matchup. In addition, Kirk reported raising almost $3 million, with Seals lagging more than $1.5 million behind. And Kirk has $2.2 million still to spend from his campaign coffers while Seals has banked just $750,000. Still, the DCCC has added Kirk to their list of ”Red to Blue” targets and Seals’ fundraising is picking up.

While Dems still think this is a definite pickup opportunity, Kirk has proven to be a difficult opponent. Seals is certainly a strong candidate, but can a strong candidate defeat a strong, entrenched one?


Background

Representative Mark Kirk experienced a rude awakening when little-known challenger Dan Seals came within six percent of the Illinois incumbent in 2006. Seals is back again in 2008 with higher name recognition and a stronger national backing, but this time, Kirk will not be taking the rematch lightly.

Already, Seals has dispatched a credible primary challenge from Clinton administration Jewish liason Jay Footlik by an impressive 81-19 margin. A recent Democratic poll shows Seals within striking distance of Kirk (46-39), as well. Last cycle, repeat challengers performed poorly—only Baron Hill (D-IN) and Nancy Boyda (D-KS) defeated an incumbent—and Seals may have already reached his electoral ceiling against a popular incumbent.

Both Seals and Kirk are prolific fundraisers, amassing $900K and $2.3 million in 2007, respectively. After his close-call in 2006 and considering the potential for Obama coattails in 2008, Kirk will be well-prepared for reelection, whatever political winds may blow.

Candidates

Mark Kirk (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Dan Seals – Democrat – 2006 Democratic candidate, businessman
Website

Illinois (11) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 19, 2008 Update:

With Republican Martin Ozinga outspent more than 2 to 1 in a climate favorable to Democrats, his opponent Debbie Halvorson won by a twenty-point margin in this open seat race.

July 30, 2008 Update:

Count us impressed with the tour-de-force performance of Republican Marty Ozinga in the second quarter. In less than three months, Ozinga raised $800K—double that of Debbie Halvorson—with only $70K coming from his own pocket. Not bad for a last minute replacement. In addition to closing the financial gap, Ozinga has already hit the airwaves with ads highlighting his outsider status as not another career politician. Ozinga has also benefited from a bi
t of luck with Halvorson facing scrutiny over her support of a questionable airport project and her vote to block a gubernatorial recall of scandal-scarred incumbent Rod Blagojevich.

Ozinga’s successes and Halvorson’s stumbles have transformed what seemed to be a Democratic gimme into a genuinely competitive contest. With a late start, terrible coattails, and toxic national mood, Ozinga still has mountains to climb, but his performance thus far has national Republicans wishing there was more of Marty to go around.

May 30, 2008 Update:

Democratic state senate majority leader Debbie Halvorson is in the driver’s seat here, with the political pedigree and pocketbook to pickup the seat. To make matters worse for Republicans, her opponent, concrete magnate Martin Ozinga, wasn’t even the winner of the February primary. Instead, the first-choice GOPer dropped out as a result of fundraising woes and the local Republican Party chose Ozinga as his replacement to be on the ballot in November.

Dems stand a good chance to pick up the seat for two main reasons: money and momentum. Halvorson had over $600,000 cash on hand at the end of March, before Ozinga even entered the race. Although Ozinga raised $400,000 in his first month and has the capacity to pump in his own cash, Democrats should be able to pull off a very rare feat: staying ahead against a self-funder in a Republican-held district. Ozinga will also be swimming upstream as a result of ethics questions and a legal proceeding that has produced five witnesses who directly contradict Ozinga’s sworn statements. Searching for a candidate with better fundraising ability, the GOP got what they wanted, but their choice of candidate could put this seat out of reach.

March 26, 2008 Update:

Is the withdrawal of New Lenox mayor Tim Baldermann good news or bad news for 14th district Republicans? On one hand, if Republicans wanted to keep Jerry Weller’s seat in their hands, Baldermann wasn’t the man for the job. Despite winning the primary, Balderman’s anemic fundraising and sluggish campaigning wouldn’t have been enough to defeat state senate majority leader Debbie Halvorson. However, the longer it takes for county chairs to appoint a nominee, the farther the district GOP falls behind the Democratic candidate.

For now, two names stand out from the Republican candidate short-list: Monical Pizza president Harry Bond and concrete contractor Martin Ozinga, with Ozinga having the inside track. Although both Republicans have roots in the business community, neither can be expected to fork over the millions this race will require. With the Democratic upset in Illinois 14th district, this race is looking even more like a Democratic pickup—perhaps their top opportunity nationwide.


Background

When revelations of a suspicious Nicaraguan land deal sent seven-term Representative Jerry Weller packing, both parties scrambled to contest the swing house district. Last October, Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi pulled off a recruiting coup when state senate majority leader Debbie Halvorson joined the race as a top tier candidate. Since then, she has raised over $428K and banked $394K of it.

Republicans, however, are much less optimistic about their nominee, Tim Baldermann. Unlike Halvorson, the New Lenox mayor dislikes political fundraising saying, ”It makes me sick to my stomach.” Although Baldermann prevailed in three-way primary, he has raised only $104K since Halvorson’s entrance. Personal preferences aside, Baldermann cannot escape the reality of money in modern campaigning; without strong finances, he has slim hopes of competing in November. For the time being the race stands as a toss-up, but with the potential to become one of the best Democratic pickup opportunities.

Candidates

Debbie Halvorson – Democrat – Illinois State Senate Majority Leader
Website

Martin Ozinga – Republican – concrete company owner
Website

Illinois (14)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 19, 2008 Update:

Democrat Bill Foster beat his opponent Jim Oberweis by a comfortable 14 point margin to keep his seat.

March 26, 2008 Update:

Did you hear that? Was the rumbling from central Illinois an aftershock of 2006 or stormclouds gathering for November? Either way, Democratic novice Bill Foster‘s upset victory over statewide veteran Republican Jim Oberweis has rocked the electoral landscape and thrown partisan pundits into the political spin cycle.

There are countless ways to analyze this race, depending on one’s political persuasion. Was it only a battle between the flawed candidate (Oberweis) and a political outsider without external import? Was Oberweis a casualty of a contentious primary against Chris Lauzen or his own political shortcomings? Was the race a proxy war between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama? Is this only an isolated incident or a sign of things to come for Congressional Republicans in the fall?

Regardless, several things are undeniable. One, Democrats continue to pad their slim Congressional margin after the wave of 2006. Oberweis is running in the general election, but experts give him little chance in the rematch. Two, NRCC woes continue—they spent 20 percent of their cash on hand, but could not hold the Republican district. And three, the twelve-year Republican majority continues to be dismantled. In two short years, Democrats now occupy the districts of former Majority Leader Delay and Speaker Hastert. Only New York Governors fall harder, faster.


Background

Political prognosticators often look to early-season special elections as bellwethers for November general elections. In 1994, Republican special election victories presaged the ”Republican Revolution” of the fall. Last cycle, a Democratic near-misses in conservative districts–Ohio’s 2nd and California’s 50th–foreshadowed a growing wave of Democratic discontent. This cycle’s bellwether looks to be Illinois 14th congressional district, home to retiring former Speaker Dennis Hastert. The district is conservative territory, giving Bush 55 percent in 2004, but not outside the realm of competitiveness given the unpredictability of special elections.

After hotly contested Super Tuesday primaries, both parties have settled on their nominees to face off on March 8th. For the Republicans, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis, a multimillionaire veteran of statewide campaigns, prevailed over state senator Chris Lauzen on an outsider message of change. Oberweis has the ability to spend millions on the special election, but the brutal contest left him with high negatives (49/41 percent approval rating) among district voters.

The Democratic nominee, physicist Bill Foster, squeaked out a primary win over 2006 nominee John Laesch by a mere 300 votes, and also has the ability to self fund from his vast personal wealth. Both candidates have already taken to the television airwaves and enlisted their party’s heavy-hitters–John McCain for Oberweis a
nd Senator Dick Durbin for Foster–at fundraising events. A recent Democratic poll shows the race within the margin of error with 45 percent of voters for Oberweis and 43 percent for Foster, but polling is notoriously inaccurate in low-turnout special elections. In the end, this bellwether of 2008 may come down to which candidate can overcome either the national mood or district demographics and turn out their party’s base on March 8th.

Candidates

Bill Foster (I) – Democrat – current Congressman elected in a special election
Website

Jim Oberweis – Republican – businessman
Website

Illinois (18) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Likely Republican


November 19, 2008 Update:

Republican Aaron Shock beat his Democratic opponent Colleen Callahan by over 20 percentage points.

June 3, 2008 Update:

As expected, Democrats appointed former farm radio broadcaster Colleen Callahan as their nominee in March, ending a three-month span with no Democrats in the race. Callahan, who now runs a communications firm, says she can raise $1.5 to 2 million but has only raised $140,000 thus far, a result of her (very) late start. It’s certainly an uphill battle against a candidate, Aaron Schock, who is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party due to his young age (27) and meteoric rise. The fact that Schock has already raised $1.1 million, even though he spent almost all of that during the primary, doesn’t make Callahan’s chances look any better.


Background

After Representative Ray LaHood called it quits after fourteen years on the Hill, Republicans feared they would have to defend yet another open seat. However, after Illinois’ Super Tuesday primary, no Democrat has yet earned a nomination and Republican state senator Aaron Schock, a rising star of the state party, looks likely to cruise to election in November.

If (and when) elected, Schock, age 27, will be the youngest congressman in Washington. Schock prevailed in a three-way primary despite controversial remarks, later retracted, supporting providing Taiwan nuclear weapons in the event of a Chinese attack. Democrats still have the opportunity to appoint a nominee—television broadcaster Colleen Callahan seems most likely—but it would be nearly impossible to stop Schock’s meteoric rise to Congress in a district that gave President Bush 58 percent in 2004.

Candidates

Colleen Callahan – Democrat – businesswoman, radio and television broadcaster
Website

Aaron Schock – Republican – state legislator
Website