Open 10th District Brings Costly, Combative Primaries | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Open 10th District Brings Costly, Combative Primaries

Illinois' 10th Congressional District has hosted competitive elections for years. That's all the more true now, with incumbent Mark Kirk seeking a promotion to the U.S. Senate. This North Shore primary has attracted an old Kirk foe, seasoned lawmakers and political newcomers.

The last two times Republican Mark Kirk ran for re-election, he faced this man, Dan Seals.

SEALS: I stood up when no one else would, or few others would, certainly no one else on this stage, and challenged the number one Republican in this state.

Democratic Party activists, like those assembled at a debate in Wheeling last weekend, had high hopes for Seals. He's a business executive, charismatic with TV-ready looks and, after all, the 10th District was gradually trending more Democratic. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama won 61 percent of the vote here.

SEALS: And thanks to the support of everybody in this room and a lot more people who are listening, we were able to win 47.4 percent of the vote, which was a wonderful achievement.

But Kirk had raised boatloads of money, and his moderate voting record seemed to suit his constituents.

So when he decided this summer he wanted that big Washington promotion to the Senate, political mouths across the Northern suburbs started salivating. Seals quickly jumped in for a third attempt, joining Elliot Richardson, a political novice and attorney already in the race.

RICHARDSON: We can be a better country, and I don't think that that makes me an idealist. I just think that makes me more out of the folks who live and work here and - frankly - more out of the politicians in Washington.

State Representative Julie Hamos, who'd also toyed with campaigns for several statewide offices, entered the race soon after.

HAMOS: I can demonstrate to these sophisticated voters in the 10th Congressional District that I can be a strong, courageous, independent leader on issues - tough issues - that really affect all of us.

There are some substantial issues that separate the Democratic candidates. On health care, they differ on how to pay for a big reform bill. Hamos wants to tax those so-called "Cadillac" insurance plans. Richardson favors a tax on the wealthy. Seals would rather cut elsewhere in the federal budget.

They also differ on Afghanistan. Richardson and Seals both oppose President Obama's troop surge. Hamos says she'd support it so long as the withdrawal timeline is met.

AD MONTAGE: I like the direction that President Obama is taking this country...In Congress, Julie will work with Barack Obama for real change...I'll work with President Obama to make sure we reform Washington, DC.

It's campaign commercials like these the Democrats are using to target voters like...

STEPHAN: Larry Stephan from Mount Prospect. I'm retired from about 35 years of working for manufacturing companies.

Stephan was a Barack Obama supporter who also voted for Mark Kirk. So going into the election this year, he thought...

STEPHAN: You know, I can sit back and watch what happens and then after the election say, 'Oh, I'm happy or I'm sad,' or I can go out and do something about it.

Well, put a swing vote notch in Julie Hamos' column. Stephan is also volunteering for her campaign.

Hoping there aren't too many Kirk defectors like Stephan are the five GOP candidates. They include Robert Dold, who's worked in politics before but now owns a pest control company.

DOLD: It is about getting your message out to the people, and trying to get the name recognition where people can recognize who you are and what we stand for.

Dold has tackled that name recognition problem in a web and TV ad.

AD: Yeah it's Dold with a D, not a E. He's fought hard hard for your business and your family...

Dold's message is not all upbeat and whimsical. He's also criticized the presumed Republican front-runner, state Representative Elizabeth Coulson, as a "Springfield-Insider" and a "tax-and-spend politician."

Coulson dismisses the attacks, and says she won't fire back with negative ads of her own.

COULSON: If that's what they feel like they have to do, they are going to find out that the voters in the 10th don't like that.

Coulson's been elected seven times in a state district with far more Democrats than Republicans, which she says shows she can keep the 10th congressional seat in GOP hands. She and Dold are joined in the primary by physician Arie Friedman, businessman Dick Green and engineer Paul Hamann.

The 10th is the only congressional district in Illinois without an incumbent on the ballot this year. So the general election will likely end up being one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.

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