Rep. Bill Foster (D)
Illinois 14th District
Downstate Illinois, as it is known locally, is a misnomer. Although it certainly does refer to the territory south of Chicago, and therefore “down the state” from Chicago, it also means everything north and west of the nation’s third-largest city. In the vernacular, downstate Illinois is everything that is not Chicago or its suburbs, just as upstate New York is everything that is not New York City. The 14th Congressional District is where downstate Illinois begins, at least where it begins in the westerly direction from the city. Where the densely packed suburban areas leave off, the district begins in western DuPage County. It is home to two great Illinois landmarks: Cantigny, the estate of Col. Robert McCormick, longtime publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and Fermilab, the world’s fastest particle accelerator, which takes a staff of 2,000 people to operate. The 14th also contains the Fox River Valley and its industrial cities, Elgin and Aurora; Aurora’s population grew 19% from 2000 to 2006 with a large influx of Hispanics. In contrast, there is urbane St. Charles, a small city bisected by the Fox River that is filled with antiques stores and restaurants and sponsors the well-attended annual Scarecrow Festival.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The district also includes Kendall County, rated the fastest-growing county in the nation in 2008. The county added some 42,000 people from 2000 to 2007, a 77 percent increase that edged out Flagler County, Fla., for fastest growth among U.S. counties with 10,000 people or more. Following a pattern established by cities and their close-in suburbs, Kendall exploded in population as people sought cheap land and more-affordable housing near job centers in suburban DuPage and Kane counties, which are a commute away. In effect, Kendall is a suburb of the suburbs. Since 2000, subdivisions and strip malls have sprouted out of its cornfields. Kendall’s surge helps make this the fastest-growing congressional district in Illinois.
Farther west, the 14th passes through DeKalb County, long the world’s leading manufacturer of barbed wire, and goes on to Lee County, to take in Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon. This was traditionally some of the most heavily Republican territory in the country. Northern Illinois was settled when Chicago was just a frontier village, by Yankees from Ohio, Indiana, upstate New York, and New England, and by Germans emigrating after the failed revolutions of 1848. They were the heart of the Republican Party from its founding in 1854, and the core of the Grand Army of the Republic a few years later. Their descendants remain mostly Republican today.
Rep. Bill Foster (D)
Elected: Mar. 2008, 1st full term.
Born: Oct. 7, 1955, Madison, WI .
Education: U. of WI-Madison, B.A., 1976, Harvard U., Ph.D., 1983..
Religion: No religious affiliation.
Family: Married (Aesook); 2 children.
Professional Career: Co-founder, Electronic Theatre Controls, 1975-2007, Scientist, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, 1990-2006.
The congressman from the 14th District is Bill Foster, a Democrat who won a March 2008 special election to succeed Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. This contest was an early indicator of the good prospects for Democrats in that election year, when Illinois favorite-son Barack Obama was elected president and the party fattened its majorities in Congress. Foster began life as a Washington insider. His parents met in Washington, D.C., where each worked for a senator. His father became a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Foster grew up in Madison, graduated from the university, and went on to get his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University. Foster was a physicist for 16 years at Fermilab, where he was involved in groundbreaking research in elementary particle physics; he also ran a theater-lighting business with his younger brother that made them both multimillionaires. He had not sought public office before volunteering in 2006 in the congressional campaign of Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who ousted a Republican incumbent. “He was somebody I believed in, and he had a chance to win,” said Foster, who, given his professional background, did more than stuff envelopes. Foster developed for Murphy a computerized get-out-the-vote system. At age 52, Foster then spent five months working on Murphy’s Capitol Hill staff.
|Bill Foster (D)||185,404||(58%)||($5,047,815)|
|Jim Oberweis (R)||135,653||(42%)||($5,084,489)|
|Bill Foster (D)||32,410||(42%)|
|John Laesch (D)||32,012||(42%)|
|Joe Serra (D)||6,033||(8%)|
|Jotham Stein (D)||5,865||(8%)|
After Hastert resigned the seat in November 2007, Foster paid for a detailed poll that surprisingly revealed that the Republican-leaning district’s voters could be wooed by a centrist Democrat who was “moderately pro-choice” on abortion rights and had a business and science background. “I went into the campaign knowing that it was long odds but that we had a chance to win,” he says. Running in the Democratic primary against the more liberal Jonathan Laesch, who had lost to Hastert 60%-40% in 2006, Foster got a break when popular Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin endorsed him. “That was huge, and it divided the labor vote,” Foster said. He also got backstage support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland, quietly steered fundraising help to him. Foster won the primary 50%-43%.
Republicans nominated Jim Oberweis, a successful dairy owner who previously had lost numerous statewide campaigns but who had been endorsed by Hastert against state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an outspoken conservative. In a significant setback, Lauzen refused to endorse Oberweis following their divisive primary. Amid the clutter of negative charges and counter-charges, Foster seemed to get a boost from a 30-second ad by the Obama campaign, which endorsed Foster with Obama’s presidential campaign theme of change. It said: “He’ll focus on changing Washington to get results. I endorse Bill Foster for Congress because he represents the change we need.” The outcome showed that Obama had coattails, according to House Democratic strategists. Foster won 53%-47%. In Kane County, which cast 61% of the vote, he led 54%-46%. Oberweis led in only three outlying rural counties. Each candidate spent more than $3 million, including about $2 million of his own money, with each national party kicking in more than $1 million. Foster and Oberweis faced each other again in November. But the outcome was viewed as a foregone conclusion and received little national attention. With another boost from Obama and with Republicans focused on other House races in Illinois, Foster this time won 58%-42%.
In the House, Foster got a seat on the Financial Services Committee, where he supported the bailout of the financial markets. He also helped to restore $62.5 million in funding for Fermilab. Republicans voiced hope of a competitive challenge in 2010.