As the incumbent president’s home state, Illinois isn’t exactly considered a “battleground” – or even a slapping fight – in the race for the White House.
But both Republicans and Democrats are fighting tooth-and-soundbyte over a handful of contested Illinois congressional seats that could decide which party controls the U.S. House. And it’s all-out war.
Forget about “binders full of women” or tiffs over who’s got a bigger pension. The campaigns fighting over three congressional districts in Chicago’s suburbs - the newly redrawn 8th, the 10th and the 11th - are breaking out the big guns.
Claims that one candidate fired workers just before Christmas. Suggestions that another, a double-amputee, is overplaying her military combat experience. Accusations that a third is a “deadbeat dad.”
So if you’re looking for a political fight, here’s your guide through the spin, the facts and the attacks in three of Chicagoland’s hottest congressional races. Check to see if you live in one of them - then strap on your helmet.
Illinois’ 8th District: Walsh v. Duckworth
THE CANDIDATES: Outspoken incumbent Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party celebrity, and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a former veterans affairs official who lost both her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
THE BACKSTORY: The fight for the 8th District, in the northwest suburbs, is one of the nastier House races in the country this election cycle, thanks in large part to gobs of super PAC spending in the race. In 2010, Walsh barely squeaked out a win over incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean. After the 2010 census, Illinois Dems redrew the congressional map in their favor in hopes of picking up seats, but this has still been a tough race.
THE ISSUES: If there’s one thing Walsh and Duckworth agree on, it’s that they couldn’t be further apart on many of the issues.
Walsh voted in favor of GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, which calls for deep spending cuts, less money to Medicaid and an overhaul of Medicare so that the government would pay partial subsidies to people who want to buy private insurance. He’s also called for less conventional cost-cutting measures, such as abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, privatizing the U.S. Postal Service and cutting foreign aid to all countries except Israel. The congressman has said repeatedly he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act - now called “Obamacare” by both parties - and he opposes gay marriage and abortion (see below).
Like many Democrats this year, Duckworth has hit Walsh hard for his vote on Ryan’s budget plan. To counter, she has said Medicare and Social Security should be a “guarantee,” and has called for cuts to military spending and changes to military contracting. Duckworth, a former National Guard pilot, also wants to cancel orders for new F-35 fighter jets, which she says could save $385 billion. Duckworth has said she supports Obamacare, but wants to make some tweaks so that its insurance requirements don’t hurt small businesses. She supports gay marriage and has described herself as being “pro-choice, without restriction.”
THE MONEY: Duckworth walloped Walsh in the fundraising race during the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. The Democrat raked in nearly $1.5 million in contributions, to Walsh’s $251,000. But outside money, both from super PACs and national parties, has been spending big and setting the tone of the race (read: negative).
THE MUD: Where to begin?
Walsh’s proudly unfiltered talk has not only made him a cable news go-to guest, but seems to have spawned a small cottage industry for Democratic operatives who follow him around, capturing everything he says on tape. He’s been criticized for comments he’s made about Muslims, abortion and Duckworth’s military service. (Since that third flap, Walsh has repeatedly said he thinks Duckworth is, indeed, a “true hero.”)
Duckworth’s campaign, meanwhile, recently unleashed a new ad citing news reports that Walsh once owed back child support payments (the issue has since been resolved). That prompted Walsh this week to hold a press conference featuring one of his own kids telling Duckworth to pull the ad.
Walsh has also been criticizing his opponent over some wrongful termination suits filed against her while she worked with the state.
Illinois’ 10th District: Dold v. Schneider
THE CANDIDATES: Pest control company president-turned-incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Dold and Democrat Brad Schneider, a north suburban businessman.
THE BACKSTORY: Democrats have tried for years to pick up the 10th, a fiscally conservative, socially moderate district that elected now-U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk five times in a row. The Cook Political Report, which rates congressional races, had the Old 10th leaning Democratic in 2010, but Dold narrowly won anyway. After redistricting, the New 10th is rated even bluer, and Dems are hoping they’ll finally be able to pull off a win there.
THE ISSUES: Dold’s big selling point is his bipartisanship, and he’s not the only one who thinks so. He’s a self-described “pro-choice Republican” who was one of the few in his party who voted to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood (though, as Schneider’s campaign has repeatedly pointed out, the amendment to cut funding ultimately succeeded despite Dold’s vote and was tucked inside a larger spending bill he supported). Dold has also said he supports civil unions for same-sex couples, which offer some of the same legal protections as marriage. Fiscally, Dold voted in favor of the Ryan budget plan, and has suggested he wants to keep the George W. Bush-era tax cuts in place for folks making more than $250,000 a year.
Schneider, meanwhile, has tried to portray Dold as a Tea Partier-in-moderate’s clothing, and has hit Dold hard on his votes in favor of the Ryan budget. Schneider has echoed the Democratic talking point that Medicare should be a “guaranteed benefit.” Unlike Dold, Schneider said he would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for people making more than $250,000 a year. Socially, Schneider says he supports gay marriage and abortion rights. In the primary, he took some lumps for donating money to Republicans who support Israel, one of Schneider’s signature issues.
THE MONEY: During Q3, Dold won the money race with more than $993,000 raised to Schneider’s $777,000. But Dold had way more money in the bank, and can reportedly expect more help from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new super PAC. Outside spending got off to a slow start in the 10th, but has been picking up steam.
THE MUD: The mud-slinging here has remained PG-13, relative to the NC-17 attacks going on in the 8th District.
Schneider’s campaign has sent press release after press release attempting to cudgel Dold with the Tea Party label, and a Democrat-boosting super PAC, House Majority PAC, recently piled on. Dold’s campaign, meanwhile, has latched onto Schneider’s refusal to release his tax returns, suggesting the Democrat is trying to hide something. Schneider has said he doesn’t want to publicize financial information about his wife, who’s a senior manager at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. (His campaign didn’t hand over the returns when WBEZ asked for them. He’s released a financial disclosure form with the House, which does not detail his wife’s income.)
Illinois’ 11th District: Biggert v. Foster
THE CANDIDATES: Thirteen-year incumbent Republican Rep. Judy Biggert and stage lighting company founder/physicist/former Democratic Congressman Bill Foster.
THE BACKSTORY: Redistricting has this race rated as a true toss-up, but these candidates are no strangers to tough races. Biggert narrowly won the primary that started her congressional career. And Foster first rode into Congress with an upset victory in a special election for former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat.
THE ISSUES: Biggert has billed herself as an independent who isn’t afraid to break with the GOP. In 2012, she picked up support from groups normally associated with Democrats: a major teachers union and a pro-gay rights super PAC. Biggert voted in favor of the Ryan budget plan, though when Foster attacked her for this in a recent debate, she said the plan was merely a starting point for negotiations. She voted against Obamacare, though she’s said she supports its provisions about pre-existing conditions and insuring young adults.
Foster, too, has sought to tie Biggert to the Tea Party. He’s attacked her for her vote on the Ryan budget, and has also talked about preserving the “guaranteed benefit” of Medicare. While in Congress, Foster voted in favor of Obamacare. Socially, Foster has said he - not Biggert - is the more ardent supporter of gay rights, despite his opponent's super PAC backing.
THE MONEY: Foster is the one Democrat in this trio who outraised his Republican opponent, with about $641,000 raised in the third quarter to Biggert’s $622,000. But as of now, this race is drawing more outside spending than any other in the suburbs.
THE MUD: Neither Biggert nor Foster seem naturally suited to outsized political bluster. (During a recent debate, Biggert fumbled for 15 seconds when given the opportunity to question her opponent directly; at the Democratic National convention, Foster followed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s rousing speech to the Illinois delegation with a PowerPoint presentation about the economy.)
Nonetheless, Foster’s campaign has sought to portray Biggert as a “career politician” with "30 years in politics," which may be technically true (if you bother to count Biggert’s time on the Hinsdale Township High School board and the village’s Plan Commission.) Both parties have attacked Biggert and Foster for being millionaires. But it turns out that (wait for it!) both candidates - Biggert and Foster - have millions of dollars in assets, according to their House financial disclosure forms.