40 in 2010: IL-14

Cross-posted at The Skeptical Michigander

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 41 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 89 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

Illinois is fairly unique in that their filing deadline is very early, being one year before the actual election. In other words, the deadline is passed, and we know exactly who’s going to be available in the primaries for all races. Because of that, there’s a lot less uncertainty for IL races compared to the rest of the nation right now. There’s a few interesting House races, but only one good solid chance of a pickup.

Illinois 14
Location: A long, thin rectangle on the west side of Chicago, stretching from the western suburbs down to the eastern side of Davenport. Aurora, IL, is probably the biggest city in the district.

Incumbent: Bill Foster
Foster won this seat in a very close special election against Jim Oberweis in early 2008 after Dennis Hastert resigned (thanks in part to Obama’s support). And he won a rematch handily later that year. Foster portrays himself as an independent, but voted for the stimulus bill and health care reform (but voted against Cap and Trade), and against the Stupak amendment. I should also note that he’s a physicist, so I guess that means one more scientist against global warming… In any case, because he’s been in Congress for less than one full term, it’s hard to get a feel for how dangerous of a candidate he is. After all, he won a special election in the midst of widespread anger at the Republican party and won a normal election in a state who fielded the winning President. His fundraising numbers are pretty impressive, however, with about $800k cash on hand.

Cook Partisan Index: R+1
Cook Race Rating: Lean Dem
CQ Politics Race Rating: Lean Dem
Rothenberg Rating: Tilts Dem
Larry Sabato: Leans Dem
(Note that, this far away, all these ratings are geared towards the incubent. Take them with a grain of salt)

Previous election results:
Obama 54, McCain 44
Bush 55, Kerry 44
Bush 54, Gore 43
Foster (D) 58, Oberweis (R) 42 (2008)
Foster (D) 52, Oberweis (R) 47 (2008 Special)

Confirmed Republican Candidates (and their websites):
Jeff Danklefson
Ethan Hastert
Randy Hultgren
Jim Purcell
Mark Vargas

Lots of candidates here, so I’m going to take Danklefson, Purcell, and Vargas at the same time. These are all political neophytes who are all involved in the Tea Party movement. As such, there’s not much to distinguish them. They all don’t seem to have any fundraising of any significance yet, they all espouse reliable conservative ideals, they all seem pretty upset about health care and fiscal insanity and the like, and their websites are all devoid of anything specific to elevate one above the others. So right now, the only things that separate them are their bios. Danklefson is a property manager, Vargas is a former Dept of Defense official who hasn’t figured out that all the links on his website are broken, and Purcell is a businessman. Call them the Interchangeable Tea Party Citizen-Politicians.

Am I being too harsh on them? Maybe. But the primary is 2.5 months away, and if any of them want to get elected they need to actually separate themselves from the pack a bit more. There was a primary debate a few days ago (unfortunately, it appears to have been a private affair, and I haven’t found a transcript online). Vargas showed some promise when it came to foreign affairs (given his background, presumably it’s his best area), but who can take him seriously when his website doesn’t even work? Purcell didn’t even show up to the debate. Sure, he says he had a prior commitment, and he gave his own answers on his website, but this was a chance to sell himself and he missed it. Danklefson called global warming a fraud, which may play well but doesn’t exactly show a measured and useful response to cap and trade.

So we have three amateurs fighting over the same demographic while there’s the very large elephant in the room: Ethan Hastert. Needless to say, the son of the former speaker is definitely the establishment choice. He’s done well in fundraising (over $300k so far) and definitely has the inside track. I’m not a fan of political dynasties nor of the GOP establishment, but at least he’s been making all the proper moves. His website only has health care up in his issues section so far, but it hits all the correct tones. He also talks about fiscal sanity (highlighting the national debt), ethics in Congress, and being anti-pork. If you can believe him, he sounds like he’d be a solid conservative, at least fiscally. Since he’s the front-runner, I hope we can believe him.

There’s also Hultgren, who’s currently a state senator and thus has political experience and the best chance of dethroning Hastert. He’s been endorsed by a few pro-life groups and seems to have a reasonably conservative track record in the state senate. Like all the rest, he’s sounding solidly conservative views. One thing I do like from him is that he’s emphasizing small businesses for the economy, and hopefully he can articulate how government regulations hurt small businesses. One thing that should be noted is that his district only partially overlaps the 14th, so he won’t have as big of a base as one might hope for. However, despite his late entrance, he’s doing ok fundraising-wise.

One thing that is important is that there’s a clean, honest primary. Part of the reason the GOP lost this district is that the primary was very contentious with plenty of mudslinging, and there’s still bad blood. Apparantly, Hultgren (and possibly Vargas) were recruited partially to challenge Hastert as revenge for the elder Hastert’s support for Oberweis in the last primary. At the very least, they’re all talking about running a positive primary and all supporting the eventual nominee, which is absolutely required. A NY-23 situation would be disastrous.

So how does the GOP win this one? Well, for starters, Oberweis and Lauzen (who lost the 2008 primary that was so contentious) should shut up and back away. It’s hard to say who the most electable candidate is, as I could see an argument that Hastert’s name recognition could be a net negative compared to Hultgren’s experience. In any case, the four political neophytes to poitics had better run a darn good campaign, not only to win in February but also to prove they can campaign against Foster. And all of them need to endorse the eventual candidate, whoever that may be. Fortunately, whoever wins will get some support from the NRCC thanks to Foster’s health care vote. With a mostly white, middle class electorate, running against the Dem Congress shouldn’t be a bad strategy.

The bad news? Foster outperformed Obama in 2008. If that’s due primarily to the discontent on the GOP side over the harsh primary, then it should be possible to overcome it. But if it reflects Foster’s strength, then a GOP wave may not be enough to win regardless of who the nominee is. Or, for that matter, this may depend entirely on the upstream races. With a potentially close battle for both governor and senator in Illinois, this may end up being a battle of turnouts. You can bet Obama will campaign heavily in his own state. But that didn’t seem to help Corzine out much in New Jersey…

More Information: Report on the Primary Debate

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