In two House primaries in Illinois, the opponents believe 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. Their plans to capitalize on that (while defending just one open seat) depend on the candidates that emerge from Tuesday’s primaries.
In the 16th District, Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger, a baby-faced newcomer, and Don Manzullo, a 10-term veteran, are the marquee matchup. The merged district loops around the Chicago exurbs, spanning the state from Wisconsin to Indiana. The race follows that classic “establishment versus movement conservative” narrative so common in intra-GOP contests these days, but the usual roles are flipped.
Manzullo leads in tea party endorsements and claims to have the more-bona fide conservative credentials, while Kinzinger has peeled away some leadership support. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s leadership PAC donated to Kinzinger, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor stuck his neck out for Kinzinger, giving him a full endorsement; the freshman also got $50,000-worth of radio ads from the YG Action Fund, a Cantor-affiliated super PAC.
Cantor’s endorsement irritated some veteran Republicans, spurring action. Rep. Tim Johnson, who has former constituents in the 16th District, cut a radio ad endorsing Manzullo over the weekend. Both Kinzinger and Manzullo race to the right without fear, even though President Obama won the district in 2008, because no Democrat filed to run.
In Chicago’s North Shore suburbs, Democrats Brad Schneider and Ilya Sheyman sit atop a four-man field vying for the right to run against freshman Rep. Robert Dold in the 10th District, the most heavily Democratic district represented by a Republican. Both make the case that Dold is not a moderate, but differ on how to take back the seat and legislate 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 63 percent Obama district should be represented by an unabashed liberal—someone who would have advocated for a public option in the health care law, for example.
Sheyman says he contrasts most strongly with Dold, but some Democrats (Schneider included) feel that he is too liberal for a district that had previously been held by a Republican for decades.
Rep. Joe Walsh, in the 8th District, is the other suburban Chicago Republican who Democrats are targeting. Tammy Duckworth—an Iraq War veteran, 2006 congressional candidate, and former Veterans Affairs Department deputy assistant secretary—is the Democrats’ favored challenger, though Raja Krishnamoorthi is also running and has proven a strong fundraiser.
Democrats are hoping to capture three other seats. In Rep. Bobby Schilling’s 17th District along the Iowa border, former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos is expected to be the Democratic nominee after Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., essentially cleared the field for her.
Former Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat who lost to GOP freshman Randy Hultgren in 2010, is hoping to oust veteran Rep. Judy Biggert in the 11th District outside of Chicago. Biggert has gone against the grain her entire career—her old seat is in a 54 percent Obama district—but now that redistricting landed her in a more than 60 percent Obama district, her attempt to win an eighth term may be her most challenging. Only one Republican in the country, Dold, represents such a Democratic district.
The new 13th District, which Johnson now represents, is also in Democrats’ crosshairs, although his constituency didn’t change nearly as dramatically as Biggert’s. David Gill, a three-time candidate who lost to Johnson by 30 points last cycle, is battling against establishment Democrats’ favored choice, Greene County State’s Attorney Matt Goetten, for the right to try to best him again. A Gill victory could essentially take the race of the competitive list.
But it’s not all offense for Democrats in the Land of Lincoln. In the 12th District, retiring veteran Rep. Jerry Costello anointed local school official Brad Harriman as his Democratic successor. Although Costello held the downstate seat comfortably for 12 terms, the district is the type of blue-collar, socially conservative area that Democrats have struggled in recently. 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 switch.
Finally, in the 2nd District, former Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson is challenging Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Halvorson has won some critical support from African-American pastors who are concerned with Jackson’s ethics troubles and criticized him as an absentee congressman. However, Halvorson’s campaigning skills are weak and Jackson’s internal polling showed him up by 36 points last week.
This article appears in the March 20, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.