Both Democrats and Republicans have said the path to winning the U.S. House of Representatives this election runs through Illinois, noting a number of close races in President Barack Obama’s home state.
One of those races is in Illinois’ 10th district, where first-term Republican Congressman Bob Dold has been working to keep his job out of the hands of Democratic challenger Brad Schneider.
It’s been a tight race through most of the campaign, though some pollsters say Dold has taken a bit of a lead during the home stretch.
Both candidates are presenting themselves as moderate businessmen, a title that’s proven successful in the past in this upscale, but complex North Shore district.
Dold, who lives in Kenilworth, runs a family-owned pest control business that he describes as one of the oldest of its kind in the country, tracing it back to the 1860s.
“We were supplying an early form of rodenticide to the Union army,” Dold said in an appearance on WBEZ’s The Afternoon Shift.
Schneider, a management consultant from Deerfield, won a four-way primary in March. He beat out 25-year-old community organizer Ilya Sheyman, who slammed Schneider for campaign contributions he made to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) who held the 10th congressional seat until 2010.
Although both candidates are seeking the label of “moderate businessman,” differences in a few core issues were brought up during the campaign.
Schneider has aligned himself with President Obama on taxes. He favors raising tax rates on individuals earning more than $250,000 a year. For his part, Dold supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals in that bracket, saying the economy is still too fragile to make a change. Dold has said he is open to raising revenue through new taxes.
Dold has portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative, voting twice for the Ryan budget plan, something that has drawn criticism from his opponent.
Dold voted against the health care overhaul, but has said he favors provisions in it, like coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance to the age of 26. Schneider has said he supports the Affordable Care Act.
Both candidates are on record as supporting Israel. Schneider supports reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons and closing gun show loopholes. During one debate, Dold said the assault weapons ban “wasn’t working." He has said he supports closing gun show loopholes.
On social issues, both candidates identify as pro-choice. Schneider has criticized Dold for voting to defund Planned Parenthood, but Dold has voted both ways on that issue. Schneider has said he supports full marriage equality. Dold supports civil unions but says he considers marriage to be between a man and a woman.
Like other congressional races in Illinois, this race has seen a hefty number of attack ads targeting both candidates. More than $6.3 million of independent outside money has flowed into the race, according to the campaign watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation. Most of that money has benefited Dold.
Schneider has been slammed for failing to release his tax returns, and he has responded by saying his wife appears on the returns and has a right to privacy. He said everything voters need to know is in his U.S. House disclosure forms.
Dold has also attacked Schneider on his business record, saying Schneider’s management consulting business has no clients. Schneider has responded saying he has dedicated all of his efforts over the last year and a half to running for Congress. He has also pointed to his past business experience. Schneider said he worked at Sears, where he was responsible for strategy and operations of 2,800 catalog stores. He also owned and operated a life insurance agency from 1997 to 2003, which he said employed 10 people.
On the other hand, Schneider and Democrats have tried to paint Dold as a Tea Party ally, a common charge from Democrats in many congressional races across the country this year.
In response, Dold has pointed to his voting record, which he says shows he is one of the most independent members of Congress.
Eric Kohn, spokesman for the Chicago Tea Party, said his organization has disagreed with many things Bob Dold has done, including Dold's recent recantation of a “no tax hikes” pledge, also known as the Grover Norquist pledge, which Dold agreed to when he took office.
“Bob Dold is certainly no ‘Tea partier,’” Kohn said, although he added that Dold did mostly fall in line with the group’s core values of small government and fiscal conservatism.
For much of the campaign, polls have indicated the race is a toss up, and both camps claimed to be up in the polls at the end of last week.
Democratic pollsters have Schneider leading by about a point, but Dold’s campaign points to the most recent polls conducted by We Ask America, an Illinois-based polling firm.
Gregg Durham, chief operating officer of We Ask America, said his most recent polls show Dold leading, 54 percent to Schneider’s 46 percent. Durham said the polls were conducted on October 29th and 30th. He said We Ask America independently collected the most recent polling data, although earlier polling in the race was paid for by pro-Dold businesses.
The 10th district covers Chicago’s northern suburbs and extends to the Wisconsin border, hugging Lake Michigan. The district was redrawn last year and is now slightly more Democratic, excluding congressional Republican strongholds like Winnetka and Kenilworth.
Democrats have long tried to recapture the 10th district. They have not held the seat since 1979, when Abner Mikva stepped down to become a judge on the Federal Court of Appeals.
Gregg Durham, of We Ask America, said the voters in the 10th district are known for being independent.
“They are among the most interesting voters that we’ve ever polled anywhere in the U.S.,” Durham said.
He said that’s because 10th district voters are known as ticket splitters. Obama won the district in 2008, and Durham said his most recent polls show that’s how it’s leaning again.
But the same voters have also had a Republican in Congress for the last 33 years. Durham said the Republicans who held the seat -- John Porter, Mark Kirk and currently Bob Dold -- won with a reputation for being fiscally conservative but socially moderate. Durham said voters like that reputation.
“They don’t like the extremes. That district does not like anyone way on either side of the fence,” Durham said. “You know, if they were golfers they’d be hitting the ball down the middle all day long.”
As ticket splitters, these north suburban voters are bucking the national trend, according to the American National Elections Studies, a collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Michigan. According to their data, in 1972, 30 percent of voters cast their ballot for a presidential candidate from one party and a congressional candidate from the opposing party. That figure was 15 percent in 2008, suggesting more Americans are voting straight party line. Not so, for 10th district voters in 2008.
Of course, that was the old 10th district, and Dold and Schneider will have to wait until results are in to see just how much the district has changed.
The new district contains both wealthy and working class communities like Lake Forest, North Chicago, Mundelein, Deerfield, Vernon Hills, Waukegan, Grayslake, Highland Park, Buffalo Grove and Zion.