Manzullo/Kinzinger Showdown Front and Center In Illinois On Tuesday
In this photo taken, Monday, March 5, 2012, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo speaks to constituents at Heritage Woods of Belvidere assisted living center in Belvidere, Ill. Manzullo is running for re-election against U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger in Illinois' 16th Congressional district. The two congressmen ended up running against each other in the March 20 Republican primary when Democrats redrew the state's political map, hoping to erase the GOP gains in 2010 that brought Kinzinger and four other freshmen to Washington. (AP Photo/(M. Spencer Green)
(M. Spencer Green)
According to members of both parties, more than mere party nominations will be decided in Illinois's congressional primaries. In two districts in particular, primary opponents claim they are fighting to determine the future of their respective parties.
There are more immediate consequences at stake, too: Illinois was one of the few states where Democrats controlled the redistricting process this cycle, and their plans to make the most of new district lines (while defending just one open seat) depend on the candidates that emerge from Tuesday night's elections.
In the 16th District, Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger, a young freshman, and Don Manzullo, a 10-term veteran, are dueling in Illinois's marquee matchup, a merged seat looping around the Chicago exurbs from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana border. The race has taken on that classic establishment-versus-movement conservative narrative so common in intra-Republican contests these days, but the usual roles are flipped.
Manzullo has the edge in tea party endorsements and has made an aggressive case that he has stronger conservative credentials, while Kinzinger boasts the financial backing of the full roster of House Republican leaders. Majority Leader Eric Cantor in particular has stuck his neck out for Kinzinger, giving the freshman a full endorsement and $50,000 worth of radio ads from the YG Action Fund, a Cantor-affiliated super PAC.
But Cantor's endorsement also irritated some veteran Republicans, spurring action. Republican Rep. Tim Johnson, who has former constituents in the 16th District, cut a radio ad endorsing Manzullo this weekend. Both Kinzinger and Manzullo race to the right without fear, even though President Obama won the district in 2008, because no Democrats filed to run.
In Chicago's North Shore suburbs, Democrats Brad Schneider and Ilya Sheyman have risen to the top of a four-man field vying for the right to run against Republican Rep. Robert Dold in the 10th District, the most heavily Democratic seat held by the GOP. Both make the case that Dold is not the moderate he's often made out to be, but they differ on how best to approach the task of taking back the district and legislating afterward.
Schneider, a business consultant, insists he has strong progressive credentials but emphasizes cooperation and comity, while Sheyman, formerly a MoveOn.org organizer, believes that a district that voted 63 percent for Obama deserves a more unbending progressive advocate in Congress--someone who would have advocated for a public option in the health care reform bill, for example.
Sheyman says that he can make the strongest contrasts with Dold in the general election, but some Democrats (Schneider included) feel that Sheyman is too far to the left to appeal to independents in a seat that has had a GOP representative for decades.
Dold is one of two Republican freshmen that Democrats are challenging in the Chicago suburbs. The other is Rep. Joe Walsh, from Illinois's 8th District. Tammy Duckworth - an Iraq War vet, 2006-vintage congressional candidate, and former deputy assistant secretary at the Veterans Affairs department - is the Democrats' favored challenger, though Raja Krishnamoorthi has also fundraised well
Elsewhere in the state, Democrats are hoping to capture three other Illinois seats from Republicans this fall, and the primaries in two of them look more like coronations than contests. In Rep. Bobby Schilling's 17th District along the Iowa border, former East Moline alderwoman Cheri Bustos is the likely Democratic nominee after Sen. Dick Durbin stepped in and cleared out a few challengers early in the winter.
Ex-Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat who lost to GOP freshman Randy Hultgren in 2010, is making a comeback attempt against veteran Republican Rep. Judy Biggert in the 11th District outside Chicago. Biggert has long run against a Democratic lean - Obama carried her old seat with 54 percent - but redistricting nudged the district over 60 percent for Obama in 2008, and only one Republican in the country (Dold) holds a seat so Democratic.
The third GOP seat weakened via redistricting Johnson's 13th District. His seat did not change so dramatically, though, going from a marginal lean against Obama to a marginal lean for him. But David Gill, a three-time Democratic candidate who lost to Johnson by 30 points last cycle, is battling against Democrats' favored choice, Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten, for the right to oppose Johnson, and a Gill victory could essentially close off the district as a Democratic pickup opportunity.
Democrats are also playing defense in the 12th District, where longtime Rep. Jerry Costello anointed local school official Brad Harriman as his Democratic replacement after announcing his retirement last year. Though Costello held the downstate seat comfortably for 12 terms, it's the type of blue-collar, socially conservative area that has increasingly given Democrats trouble lately. Harriman, a former NFL player, has Costello's ideology and his imprimatur, but Republicans are still hopeful that either Jason Plummer, a wealthy candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010, or Rodger Cook, formerly the mayor of Belleville, can convince longtime Democratic voters to give another party a chance.
The final race of note is in Illinois's 2nd District, where former Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson is challenging Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in a primary. Halvorson has won some critical support from African-American pastors who have criticized Jackson's ethics troubles and hit him for being an absentee congressman, but Halvorson has been a weak campaigner and Jackson's internal polling showed him up by 36 points last week.