Hey! Over Here! Feisty Congressional Races

Hey! Over Here! Feisty Congressional Races
Hey! Over Here! Feisty Congressional Races

Hey! Over Here! Feisty Congressional Races

If you’ve watched, listened to, or read much news lately, you’ve probably heard about a little race for U.S. president that’s going on. That said, with the presidential primaries snapping up a lot of the media attention, there’s another critical election fight right here in Illinois. It’s a fight that’s got the attention of both Republicans and Democrats and one with the potential to shift the balance of power in Washington.

Last Thursday night, the Northfield Township Democrats packed into a banquet room at Hackney’s restaurant in the northwest suburbs.They watched as business consultant Dan Seals stepped behind a podium.

SEALS: The first place I want to start is with thank you.

Seals is in the middle of his second campaign to challenge 10th District Republican Congressman Mark Kirk-and he’s considered the favorite in the upcoming Democratic primary.

SEALS: My family actually just got back to town. And my daughter said, when she got back, she said, “Did you win the big trophy yet?” I said, “Well, that’s not exactly how it works.”

In the media, congressional races like Seals’ have been largely overshadowed by the presidential primaries. But Illinois’ 10th district is one of half a dozen House races in Illinois that national Republicans and Democrats are watching closely. The districts getting attention are generally suburban ones around Chicago. They’re districts that have historically been Republican, but like the 10th, they’ve trended more Democratic in recent years.

SEALS: The people who are moving to the suburbs are very different than the people who were moving there 30 or 40 years ago. They’re coming for different reasons. The schools. The space. But they’re also bringing their politics with them.

But that trend isn’t the only reason both parties think several of these districts could go either way this year. Several Illinois Republican Congressmen are retiring-Denny Hastert, Jerry Weller, Ray LaHood. Retirements leave open seats-and as a rule, open seats are more competitive. On top of all that, polls have shown a national tilt toward the Democrats this year, adding to the sense that red districts could turn blue. Bottom line is that Illinois is now a coveted prize when it comes to House races. From the 11th district to the south of the city, up to the 6th and the 14th in the western suburbs and the 10th district to the north.

WASSERMAN: Chicago’s suburban ring is now a key battleground in the entire race for the House.

David Wasserman follows House races for the Cook Political Report. Wasserman accurately predicted that Democrats would pick up 29 seats in the House in November or 2006. Sort of a political junkie’s hole in one.

WASSERMAN: Managed to hit it on the head.

Wasserman says Illinois’ concentration of Republican districts tilting Democratic has put the state smack in the middle of the national struggle for Congress.

WASSERMAN: I think Republicans by in large understand their position right now. Basically, they can’t lose so many seats in the house that they don’t have a shot at recapturing congress in 2010.

Wasserman says even if the presidential primaries are overshadowing Illinois’ key house races-voters should expect to see them heat up following the primary, and be hot and heavy come fall. In fact he expects the fall fight over the state’s competitive seats to be so tough that he wouldn’t be surprised if as much as 40-million dollars is spent on the races.

WASSERMAN: I wouldn’t want to be a Chicago voter, just because the level of noise in the Chicago media market, the level of tv ads, is really going to create some voter fatigue by election day 2008.

National officials with both parties say Illinois is on their top five list for congressional battleground states.

GREENBERG: Wow. How are you? Thank you for letting me come out with you today.

Steve Greenberg’s a northwest suburban businessman, and a former professional hockey player. Last Friday night, he was at an ice rink in Hoffman Estates, joking with a group of young girls who’d shown up to skate with him. Greenberg’s one of three Republican candidates hoping to challenge 8th District incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean.
GREENBERG: I want to get a job, that’s what I’m doing right now. Can you help me out?

GIRL: Yes.

GREENBERG: Oh good!

In 2004, Melissa Bean became one of the first Democrats to capitalize on the changing politics of Chicago’s suburbs. This year, the Republican party recruited Greenberg to run against her in the 8th. He’s convinced it’s still a swing district.

GREENBERG: It is a Bush district twice. And I believe they’re just waiting for someone who can step up, who can articulate the principals that they want to be brought to Washington.

Since Democrat Melissa Bean first ran in the 8th-the district has gotten the attention of both national parties. And ever since then it’s produced highly competitive and expensive elections. A good indicator that the same thing could happen to other similar suburban districts. Meaning Illinois won’t just be a key state for House races this cycle, but for election years to come.