Democrat Brad Schneider, a business consultant and newcomer to elected office, ousted freshman Republican Rep. Robert Dold in Illinois’s suburban 10th District with a message of greater bipartisanship—along with some help from his party, which redrew the congressional district’s boundaries to increase the probability of a Democratic takeover.
Schneider was born and raised in Denver, where his parents—an accountant and real-estate agent—were active Democrats. He recalls joining them to canvass for Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968 and hosting a fundraiser at their home in 1972 for then-candidate Patricia Schroeder, who went on to become a high-profile member of the House and briefly a 1988 presidential aspirant. He said in an interview that he admired other Colorado Democrats such as Gov. Richard Lamm and Sen. Timothy Wirth, whom he called “politicians who could actually get things done.”
Schneider came to the Chicago area to attend Northwestern University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. After spending a year in Israel working at a kibbutz, he returned to the Chicago area to take a job with consulting giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Schneider worked other jobs in corporate consulting, then went into business for himself as a consultant, working mostly with small- and medium-sized businesses. He also did outside work for the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and served as director of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a social-justice organization in the Windy City.
Dold, the owner of a pest-control company, eked out a victory in 2010 for the seat held by Republican Mark Kirk, who was elected to the Senate that year. As part of their revamp of the Illinois congressional map, state Democrats responded by removing Dold’s Kenilworth home from the district, as well as his best precincts in the high-income towns of Palatine, Northbrook, and Winnetka. In the process, they remade the 10th into the most Democratic district represented by a Republican in the House.
Declaring that “Congress is holding the progress of the country back,” Schneider joined what became a four-person Democratic primary field. His main opponent was Ilya Sheyman, a 25-year-old former community organizer. Sheyman drew staunch support from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Both groups were extremely vocal in criticizing Schneider, with MoveOn launching a website called “Schneider the Republican” in reference to his acknowledgment that he had supported Kirk and other GOP figures in the past. But Schneider won the strong backing of the Democratic establishment, which saw his business experience as the better weapon against Dold. He won the primary with 47 percent of the vote to Sheyman’s 39 percent.
In the general-election race, Schneider touted his pro-business stances, arguing that government needs to help companies by investing in education and upgrading infrastructure. He also emphasized his willingness to reach across the aisle to seek solutions. “I’ve said I’m going to work with anyone, anyone who has an idea who’s willing to collaborate,” he said. On foreign policy, he played up his strong support for Israel, promising to be “a leading voice” in assisting that nation while also advocating for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
He contended that Dold voted in lockstep with GOP leaders on major issues, especially women’s health and the right to an abortion. Dold, whose voting record was more moderate than most of his GOP colleagues, called the charge misleading, citing his dissents on such issues as the environment, education, and gun control. But the Democratic tide led by President Obama in Illinois proved to be too much for him to overcome.